The Curator of Schlock #378 by Jeff Shuster
Mary and the Witch’s Flower
Kind of like a Ghibli movie.
The nightmare was over. Operatives from the Canadian government had infiltrated a marsupial slaughterhouse in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Edwige, my kangaroo companion, and myself were saved. All of the surviving animals were to be transported to animal sanctuaries. And then Larry, the Don Knotts looking special operative, gave me some bad news that hit me straight in the gut. I had to say goodbye to Edwige.
A few weeks back I reviewed Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, an attempt by a Japanese animation company to produce a movie in the style of classic Disney animation. The critics lambasted it and I felt the need to defend the movie because, at the very least, it was pretty to look at. But looks aren’t everything and, in retrospect, Little Nemo proved to be a hollow experience as the protagonist was a bit of a floater. This brings us 2017’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower from director Hiromasa Yonebayashi.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower is the first feature film of Studio Ponoc, a company formed by Yoshiaki Nishimura, the former lead producer of Studio Ghibli, a production company said to rival the Walt Disney Studios in terms of quality animated features for children and adults, Why did he leave Ghibli? Well, the studio shutdown following Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement, Miyazaki being one of the great living legends of animation. Unfortunately, this must have left many of the animators out of a job so they went with Nishimura to form a new studio and keep the style of Studio Ghibli alive.
On the surface, Mary and the Witch’s Flower has the look and feel of a top notch Studio Ghibli production. The movie is based on the children’s novel The Little Broomstick by English author Mary Stewart. Studio Ghibli had also produced movies based on English children’s novels such as The Borrowers by Mary Norton and Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Studio Ghibli English dubs are also known for featuring top talent and Mary and the Witch’s Flower features Ruby Barnhill, Kate Winslet, and Jim Broadbent.
With all of these elements coming together, we should have a movie set to rival any that Studio Ghibli had to offer, allowing Studio Ponco to carry on the legacy. Unfortunately, the experience left me feeling flat. Yes, the animation itself is up to the level of a Studio Ghibli production, but our heroine isn’t up to the Ghibli standard. Sheila O’Malley of RogerEbert.com is spot on when she says, “There’s no real inner conflict in the character, informing her choices (consciously or unconsciously).”
I remember in Kiki’s Delivery Service how Kiki loses faith in herself or how Chihiro breaks down after surviving her first night in the bath house of the spirits in Spirited Away. I’ve heard that Hayou Miyazaki has come out of retirement to make one final movie, How Do You Live? After that, it may be the end of an era for this style of animated movie, much how classic Disney animation has faded away; so too may Ghibli.
Jeff Shuster (episode 47, episode 102, episode 124, episode 131, episode 284, episode 441, episode 442, episode 443, episode 444, episode 450, episode 477, episode 491, episode 492, episode 493, episode 495, and episode 496) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.