Studio Ponoc invokes the magic of Miyazaki for the next generation in a new endearing tale.
Fans of Studio Ghibli films everywhere rejoiced at the announcement of the newly created Studio Ponoc and their first feature film, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, which premiered in theaters January 2018. Studio Ponoc, composed of several animators from the former studio, seemed well equipped to take on the challenge of inspiring the next generation with the stylings of Hayao Miyazaki. Based on the English book, The Little Broomstick, Mary and the Witch’s Flower combines elements that are reminiscent of every magic school we’ve ever wanted to attend with a brilliant yet unsure, even unlikely heroine.
I had the privilege of attending an opening night screening and quickly noticed that, true to the spirit of Studio Ghibli, the attendance was filled with people from all walks of life. Within the first few moments of the film, we are introduced to our protagonist Mary whose fiery personality is only outmatched by her brilliant red hair. Living with her Aunt Charlotte in a small town in the countryside, it’s clear that Mary is a loner outside of her derisive relationship with a nearby neighbor. Ironically enough, it is the cat of this same neighbor that Mary is following into the forest when she stumbles upon a rare flower called a Fly-By-Night which grants her magically abilities, but only within a certain time limit. Armed with a broom and her furry sidekick, Mary and the audience are whisked away to a magic school where nothing is as it seems.
As a fan of Ghibli's work, the challenge is the urge to compare. Subtly splashed through the coming of age tale are moments that scream “ah-ha” from Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Spirited Away - all Studio Ghibli classics that any fan, young or old should familiarize themselves with if they haven’t already. At times, the pacing feels rushed, like the viewer is being shuffled from scene to scene with a sense of urgency that lacks justification other than time is literally money. The fantasticalness and gorgeously wonderous world that Mary is thrusted into and resides in seemed one dimensional and untapped into in terms of her interactions with it and even our interaction with it as the audience. I’m reminisced of Chiro and the Spirit World in reflecting on this.
Overall, the story was cutely told, cutely executed, and cutely concluded in that there didn’t seem to be a sense of true depth. The story is just well...all around cute and whimsical. It didn’t linger around in my brain much afterwards as Spirited Away had nor did it have me pondering over allegories or allusions as with Princess Mononoke and quite frankly, that’s okay. It’s difficult not to compare the two Studios, but the fundamental truth is that Studio Ponoc is its own entity carving a new path. While the film didn’t fully live up to the grandiosity of what we could call its predecessors in many ways, it did manage to remind us of the themes we love and look forward to from Ghibli. It established its place as a solid staple and thus the story of Mary and her adventure marks a strong foundation for which Studio Ponoc can certainly build up. There’s no doubt that Mary is worth seeing and worth knowing so old fans and newcomers alike should grab a friend and a seat for an endearing and magical journey.