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Mary and The Witch's Flower

 (1,756)6.81 h 43 min2017PG
A strange flower grants a young girl magical powers, which leads to the adventure of a lifetime.
Directors
Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Starring
Ruby BarnhillKate WinsletJim Broadbent
Genres
KidsAnimeFantasy
Subtitles
English [CC]
Audio languages
English
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Supporting actors
Ewen Bremner
Producers
Yoshiaki Nishimura
Studio
GKIDS, INC.
Rating
PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
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Format
Prime Video (streaming online video)
Devices
Available to watch on supported devices

Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars

1756 global ratings

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Top reviews from the United States

Karen KrajenbrinkReviewed in the United States on March 20, 2018
5.0 out of 5 stars
Studio Ponoc carries the torch of Ghibli-esque storytelling and art
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May this help those that grump about the "lack of originality" reviews. Think of Mary and the Witch's Flower as a huge homage/thank you to their teachers at Studio Ghibli. If viewed in that sense (like Guillermo Del Toro drops homages to various fairytales in his works), a lot of the story/plot points make a lot more sense. I am so grateful to see Studio Ponoc carry on the torch of the master storytellers of Ghibli. This being their first movie, I can only imagine the amount of growth we'll see in the coming years.

This is a charming story of a strong female lead coming into her own with the help of a very cute cat, some villains who aren't what they seem, and her friend Peter. Saw this twice in theaters, can't wait to watch it again to catch all the references.
108 people found this helpful
Jonathon TurnerReviewed in the United States on January 27, 2018
4.0 out of 5 stars
Borrows from the great masters with charm and wondrous beauty. No classic, but pleasant enough.
Studio Ghibli had long established itself as the pinnacle of Japanese animation starting in the 1980's, but recently the studio went into hiatus, leaving most of its younger employees at a dead-end. Not to be discouraged, some of these employees decided to start a new facility of their own. Now christened as "Studio Ponoc", this team of former Ghibli animators, led by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY and WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE) begin their career with MARY AND THE WITCH'S FLOWER, based on a children's book by the late Mary Stewart. The end result could very well be described as basically a "Greatest Hits" of Ghibli as opposed to something that would establish a new identity for the studio, but considering the alternative, which would be a complete extinction of a beautiful form of art, for once, this isn't a flaw.

Probably the best way to describe this feature is that it's a sort of KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE meets HARRY POTTER, with a dash of SPIRITED AWAY, and occasionally PRINCESS MONONOKE, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, as well as CASTLE IN THE SKY for good measure. While MARY AND THE WITCH'S FLOWER doesn't quite live up to the standards of those titles, it is nonetheless a pleasant enough venture. It's also refreshing to see an animated feature targeted at kids and adults which goes all-out on being ambitious. In fact, the film's action-packed opening scene, in which we see a mysterious girl flee from a burning laboratory on a broomstick while chased by dolphin-shaped watery-like creatures, provides a great start.

After this thrilling sequence, we meet Mary (voiced in the English version by Ruby Barnhill), a bored little girl who has just moved to the countryside to stay with her aunt. She's friendless, depressed, and even clumsy. The only other person her own age in the town she has recently moved into, a boy named Peter, also rubs her the wrong way: he jokes about her red hair, which for some reason she is sensitive about. While pursuing a runaway cat into the woods beyond her house, Mary discovers both a little broomstick and a glowing flower. Before you know it, she is suddenly transported to Endor College (no, it's not a reference to STAR WARS), an elaborate fortress of a university which doubles as a school for witches. She is "welcomed" by the school's domineering headmistress Madam Mumblechook (Kate Winslet) and scientist Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent). But things get ugly when she takes a spellbook that doesn't belong to her and accidentally puts Peter's life in danger. The last act of the movie involves Mary trying to correct her mistake, building to an edge of your seat climax with just enough pyrotechnics and thrills to please any fan of such suspenseful finales.

It's evident that director Yonebayashi is paying homage to his former master with every scene in his film. More often than not, there are visual references that one will make to classic Ghibli films along with visual touches of its own. Endor College is located on a tall mesa stretching above the clouds, bizarre assortments of chimera creatures abound in cages, and there are also the sort of rubbery, shape-shifting, ooze-like creatures that can be found from HOWL. At one point our heroine crash-lands in the forest, with her broomstick broken in half. And the entire climax involves scaling a massive tree which houses scientific technology. The animation is also as richly detailed and colorful as anything from Studio Ghibli, with the character designs each containing Miyazaki's signature style, from the cherub-like faces of the protagonists to the grotesquely proportioned "caricature" creatures.

Musically, too, MARY AND THE WITCH'S FLOWER excels. Although Joe Hisaishi's musical services are missed, Takatsugu Muramatsu supplies a beautiful orchestral soundtrack with occasional Hammer-dulcimer strummed interludes for good measure. There are times when the director does allow the music to take a back seat and let occasional still shots filled with environmental sounds do the talking instead of spoon-feeding us.

Perhaps the only issue with this otherwise enjoyable feature is that it doesn't quite achieve the same heights of Ghibli's classic films. It might be due to Yonebayashi trying to do a bit too much within 104 minutes or so, but there are a few plot points that feel a bit unresolved. I was unclear about Mary's issue regarding her hair, for instance, especially since the film decides to discard it in the second half. Her relationship with Peter also could have used a bit more fleshing out as well -- her sudden shift from annoyance to wanting to rescue him feels abrupt, even for a kid her age. The ending itself, while thrilling, also seems a bit rushed as well. Moreover, Mumblechook and Doctor Dee aren't all that scary for being antagonists, and despite Yonebayashi's claims that they are "misunderstood", all we're permitted to see in the film is both characters mostly engaging in despicable acts.

Probably the most interesting character in the movie is the one that doesn't utter a word, and that is Tib, a black cat who very much resembles Jiji from KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE. He pretty much acts like any ordinary cat would. He meows, prances, acts independently, and mostly communicates with facial expressions. For good measure, Tib even has a girlfriend. Not that the other characters are unlikable by comparison, but these two animals, for some reason, really stand out.

Following in the tradition of the Ghibli movies, this movie also employs some well-known actors and actresses to provide the voices for the dub -- only this time, the dub is recorded at England's Tambourine Studios, resulting with a mostly British-accented cast. Considering that this is based on a British children's book, this provides a nice change of pace, and is arguably all the more fitting for this film perhaps because of that. (None of this is a slight against any of the Disney-produced dubs for the Ghibli library -- they're still excellent, warts and all.) Oddly, the only performance that took a while to grow on me was that of Barnhill as Mary (recently seen as Sophie in Steven Spielberg's THE BFG). Her voice is a bit grating at first, with the occasional moment of tentativeness, but she gradually steps it up as the film goes on and by the end her Mary grew on me. Broadbent and Winslet are fine in their roles as Mumblechook and Dee, by contrast, while Louis Ashbourne Serkis (son of Andy Serkis from LORD OF THE RINGS fame) speaks appropriately for the role of Peter. Strangely, my favorite performance of the dub might be that of Ewen Bremner as as Flannagan, a pompous fox-like character who chastises Mary for how she handles her broomstick. The Scottish accent is a great fit, and he brings a lot of character. There are a few moments where the lip sync is less than perfect, but not distracting enough to take away from the film. I can't speak for the Japanese version, as I haven't seen it.

In the end it doesn't matter which version you watch. MARY AND THE WITCH'S FLOWER, inferior though it may be to Ghibli, is nonetheless lovely and a great way to spend two hours. Although it does little to set Ponoc apart from the studio it takes inspiration from, there's plenty to enjoy. That it comes at a time when hand-drawn animated features like these are scarce (at least in America) is a blessing as well.
101 people found this helpful
Oscar L. ColomboReviewed in the United States on May 5, 2018
5.0 out of 5 stars
A very good anime movie.
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It is one remarkable anime fantasy in the delicate and colorful style of Ghibli animation, with a number of tips of the hat, along the way, to some of the best known -- and loved -- works from that studio.
As it has been often noted, the one it resembles the most, if only in the surface, is "Kiki's Delivery Service." If it comes out somewhat short in the comparison, it is because this is a really good movie, the other a little timeless masterpiece.
Not as memorable as director Yonebayashi's previous major work, the mesmerizing "When Marnie was there", the work that "closed the door and turned out the lights", as the last full-feature movie ever produced by Studio Ghibli, "The Witch's Flower" is, nonetheless, worth watching every last minute of it.
I hope that brand-new Studio Ponoc manages to stay the course and produce more excellent movies in the great tradition started by the three Ghibli's leaders: Suzuki, Miyasaki and Takahata. A tradition that, one hopes, will become the new leaders' very own, and also a grand one, in time.
13 people found this helpful
CharlesReviewed in the United States on May 12, 2018
3.0 out of 5 stars
Falls short of Ghibli mark
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I've seen the term "Ghibli-lite" thrown around quite a bit in the past, but this is the first time it has truly felt appropriate. Studio Ponoc is the new Japanese animation studio that has risen from the ashes of the mighty Studio Ghibli with the goal of creating animated features of the same spirit and quality. It's staffed by many of the same extraordinarily talented animators, and this film - their debut - was helmed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the director of two recent canon Ghibli films: the solid The Secret World of Arrietty, and the excellent When Marnie Was There. You couldn't hope for a better pedigree, but Mary and the Witch's Flower falls unequivocally short of the mark.

It certainly looks the part. It frequently sounds the part. But it just doesn't feel the part. For all its visual grandeur, the film ultimately has a vacuous, shallow quality. It references many phenomenal, classic Ghibli films like Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away, but fails to reach the same level of heart, nuance, and depth. The bathhouse setting in Spirited Away, for instance, absolutely bustles with activity and is populated by characters who feel unique and well-realized no matter how minor their role. By comparison, Endor College feels hollow and lifeless, a backdrop rather than a living, breathing place. This film took about half the time to make as the typical Ghibli film and, sadly, it shows. The characters are thin and the plot feels familiar and routine in an unflattering way,

Still, there are some magical moments to be had here and visually the film does consistently impress. The more contemplative scenes which make up much of the first act of the film contain its best sequences. Yonebayashi has shown himself to be a filmmaker that thrives in the languid, slice-of-life style approach and this film doesn't play to his strengths. It was likely a calculated decision to make a more fun, action/adventure-oriented feature a la Castle in the Sky to debut the studio but it just comes off feeling... calculated. It's a decent film, but given the talent involved, decent is quite a letdown. I haven't given up on Ponoc though. Someone needs to carry the Ghibli torch and they are still poised to be the ones to do it. Fingers crossed that it's only up from here.

3/5
18 people found this helpful
SERReviewed in the United States on June 20, 2020
3.0 out of 5 stars
Cute but lacks a certain charm
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This is a cute and enjoyable movie. I will say that while those who worked on Ghibli movies apparently worked on this, this movie does not give off Studio Ghibli vibes (except for maybe the prologue and art style), so do not go in expecting to have the same experience as you would for a Studio Ghibli movie. It's best to see this as it's own thing. Keep in mind, I am no where near a big Studio Ghibli fan. Beyond four particular movies I loved from them, I don't care much for the majority of their movies.

I really felt for Mary at the start, who wanted to help those around her but always messed up. It goes beyond the typical heroine who's just a klutz. It was so heartbreaking yet endearing. But my opinion of her character shifted once she ended up at the magical college. Fortunately, it shifted back at the end.

I do have some problems with this movie. Some of the sound effects are...odd. For example, when the characters walk -- even on hard surfaces -- their shoes make "squish" sounds, like they're walking through the mud or something. Also, I know Mary is a young, but I find it very unbelievable she wasn't suspicious and didn't bat an eye when her teachers told her about expirements done on innocent animals. I'm also not fond of how her lies kept piling up and then she put another innocent person in danger. The first lie I can forgive, because she was scared and lowkey threatened should she be an imposter. But the others after that were born from her ego. Regardless, Mary isn't a terrible character. Trust me, I've seen worse. Nonetheless, I almost wish Peter had been the main character instead of Mary. Despite being around Mary's age, he was a lot more mature and put others before himself. I found him far more likable and relatable overall. Not a fan of this movie borrowing many concepts from Castle in the Sky (a girl escaping in the prologue and falling out of the sky, a hidden society within a giant storm cloud in the sky, a huge tree with roots everywhere, etc); it felt a little lazy.

I will give kudos for the relationship between Mary and Peter though (and the cats). I thought it was done well. I also like how we get a mini epilogue that shows what happens once the characters return to their life after the adventure (which is not something we really got with Ghibli movies and it drove me nuts). So I really loved that.

Again, it's a cute movie, but you may find the heroine not your cup of tea. This lacks the charm and unique feeling of the Ghibli movies, so like I said before: don't go in expecting it to be as such or you'll end up disappointed. If you think of this as it's own thing, you'll probably have a much more enjoyable time with it.
One person found this helpful
H. BalaReviewed in the United States on February 1, 2019
4.0 out of 5 stars
"I mistrust that Mary Smith with every atom of my body."
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In the post-Ghibli era, Mary and the Witch's Flower comes along and gets us nostalgic for Ghibli's classic works. And it makes sense, seeing as how, when Studio Ghibli closed its doors in 2014, much of the talent moved on to shape the spanking new Studio Ponoc, of which this movie is its first release. It's based on a 1971 children's novel, The Little Broomstick, by Mary Stewart, an author you probably know best for her Arthurian novels.

Is this one as good as the Ghibli masterpieces? No. You can call it paying homage, you can call it playing it safe. It's a really good movie, but it's absent of the depth and complexity of all-timers like Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Howl's Moving Castle. And it borrows quite a bit from those movies. I'm frankly a bit disappointed since it's from the guy who directed the exceptional When Marnie Was There. But let's be kind and say this movie was paying homage.

It's about Mary Smith, a little English girl who bemoans her frissy red hair and her lack of playmates. With her parents away at work, she's staying in the countryside, in sleepy Redmanor village, with her Great-Aunt Charlotte. On the surface, there's nothing remarkable about Mary Smith. Oh, she tries to be helpful. But she's clumsy and, so, her efforts usually end in mini-disasters.

One day she follows a cat into the woods and finds a strange blue flower that blooms only every seven years, and it's when she becomes remarkable. For a while.

If you're a fan of 2D anime, then you're in for a treat. This movie looks stunning. Studio Ponoc has tapped into the visual approach and storytelling aesthetic for which Studio Ghibli was so celebrated. The score is breathtaking and amplifies your sense of wonder and fills in a lot of empty space left by a script that has its share of lapses. Hayao Miyazaki's writing is such a tough act to follow. And I appreciate the notion that you can be a normal girl like Mary without much drama in your life to overcome, and you can still be a hero. But, my gosh, what does it say when the impression I walked away with is that Mary's great-aunt would have had the more interesting story? The characters weren't developed much. Everyone seemed pretty blasé about magic. The villains were blah, and I never was quite sure what Mumblechook and Dr. Dee's murky end-game was. Something about wanting their students to be able to wield all kinds of magic...? There's a whiff of Hogwart's, but only a whiff that never gets explored. I wanted to see more of the prestigious Endor College, this most exceptionally exclusive college of magic. More, I wanted to see Mary in classes. There's a boy named Peter that figures big into the last half of the movie, but he's this generic kid. He's so desperate to help his mother, but I wish there were a scene or two in which we get to meet his mother and see them interact, just to drive it home.

Look at me grouse. Almost makes it seem I didn't care for the movie. But I did. Mary's hero's journey is worth experiencing. Mary and the Witch's Flower is a solid debut for Studio Ponoc, and I expect them to only get better.
One person found this helpful
ErikaReviewed in the United States on April 14, 2019
4.0 out of 5 stars
Cute, but lacked depth.
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The animation was gorgeous for this movie! But the story was a little lacking and had some pacing problems. Writers dwell on the unimportant for too long, then breeze through or left out details that would have provided more depth to the plot.

For example, the school seemed like a wasted opportunity since the tour (which they put GREAT importance in exploring), never appears again. Even more, the world of the witches feels pretty empty--as if nothing exists in it except this one school and her aunt's abandoned house--and even then, once they leave the school tour, it seems like that doesn't exist anymore.

Compare that to Ghibli movies, where Miyazaki is a master for making it look like life exists beyond the frame (lights of towns and farmland in the distance, people going about their day in the crowd as if they are really individuals with someplace to be, etc).

You can tell that they definitely, as former Ghibli employees, tried to live up to the Ghibli reputation, but they were missing a lot of the soul which makes Ghibli movies stand out.

It was a cute movie overall. It had a lot of potential, but didn't quite make it there.
wiredweirdReviewed in the United States on May 23, 2018
4.0 out of 5 stars
Almost great
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It has all the right elements: strong female lead, plenty of magic, even a hidden family secret. In itself, it's a pretty good flick, with animation right up there with others of its kind.

Still, I found it lacking in substance. Miyazaki's films start with all the same elements (plus flying, which this also features). Then, they add something deeper, something that brings older myths to new life, more sense of forces at work beyond what's right in front of you. Whatever it is that makes an anime so deeply satisfying seems absent in this effort. I quite enjoy the artwork, especially the glorious backgrounds, but look forward to scripts that work at more different levels.

-- wiredweird
5 people found this helpful
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