"a whirlwind animation with impressive visuals"

Animation is on a surge again, especially in the hand-drawn medium. With more and more people turning to Japanese Anime and movies such as Loving Vincent and The Breadwinner making waves, the art form has come alive again. That’s not to say it ever died or that computerised movies such as Coco or Captain Underpants weren’t unenjoyable fetes of imaginations; it’s just that it waned, the flame ran a little cold for classical animation. 

Studio Ponoc a spiritual successor (or maybe cousin) to the acclaimed Studio Ghibli is bringing more hand-drawn anime adventures to the big screen with Mary and the Witch’s Flower. 

From director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Mary and the Witch’s Flower revolves around the titular young girl who is spending her summer bored at her grandma’s house. Exploring the countryside surrounding her, Mary is led to a mystical flower by a couple of grumpy cats and a mischievous broom. The flower grants her all sorts of powers including access to a wizarding school floating in the sky. But all isn’t as it seems and Mary soon discovers that the very flower she possesses is hunted after by villainous foes. Can she escape their eager grasp? 

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a whirlwind animation with impressive visuals. There is a colourful presence on display as Mary takes off on a magical journey. The blinding use of spectrum becomes a vibrant spectacle on the big screen. There are even scenes that make you double-take, believing that the director has switched to live-action scenery. Instead, it is just really impressively executed art. 

The problem here is that the story is lacking. The film starts strong with an intriguing premise but once Mary goes to the castle in the sky, the plot becomes silly and over-stuffed with unnecessary and bizarre characters. The antagonists are garish and over-the-top, pantomime-like villains who are missing a certain edge.

It also feels at odds with the beginning sequence where a dramatic scene sees a red-haired witch flee a burning building. While that is certainly revisited later on within the story, it still feels like a heavy and jagged puzzle piece unable to fit into the overall schematics of the movie. 

Perhaps in the subtitled version this isn’t an issue, but the English dub loses a lot of heart in the translation with the likes of Ruby Barnhill, Kate Winslet, and Jim Broadbent feeling wooden and lifeless in their delivery. It’s a shame that the story is limp because the visuals are so unparalleled and beautiful that you yearn to be similarly swept away with Mary. But sadly, the lifeless plot leaves you grounded.