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Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Release date:
July 8, 2017
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ is the first film by Studio Ponoc, founded by Yoshiaki Nishimura, who was a producer for Studio Ghibli before. Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, too, is a Studio Ghibli alumnus, being an animator for the famed studio since 1997, and directing the studio’s 21st feature film ‘When Marnie Was There’ (2014).

It comes to no surprise then that ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ is very, very Ghibli-like. Already the packaging of the DVD would fool anyone. But the similarity doesn’t stop there: even the opening titles emulate Ghibli; the character designs, too, are very Ghibli-like; the film is based on a British children’s book, just like Ghibli’s ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ (2004), ‘Arrietty’ (2010) and ‘When Marnie Was There’; the film stars a young female protagonist (Mary) who has to survive without her parents, just like ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ (1997), ‘Spirited Away’ (2001) and ‘From Up on Poppy Hill’ (2010); Mary is a witch like Kiki; she’s accompanied by a cat who plays an important part just like Kiki and like Shizuku in ‘Whisper of the Heart’ (1995), and the film is partly set in a fantasy world, just like ‘Spirited Away’.

Now, this is immediately the film’s main flaw: studio Ponoc imitates Ghibli very well but doesn’t bring anything original of its own. The final product is practically indistinguishable from the source of inspiration. That doesn’t mean, however, that ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ is a bad movie. The story is told well enough, the animation is top notch, and the fantasy world looks great. I certainly had a good time watching it, and would recommend the movie to all lovers of the Studio Ghibli product. But Studio Ponoc’s debut could and should have been something much more of their own. If you compare, for example, ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ to the idiosyncratic ‘Night Is Short, Walk on Girl’ from the same year, it becomes clear which studio brings something original to the world, and which one does not.

Watch the trailer for ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

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