MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER is as Ghibli as Possible without being Ghibli

In 2015 the almost religiously worshipped animation studio Ghibli appeared to announce it was closing down. Ghibli 2D animation god Hayao Miyazaki announced retirement in 2013 (although he is currently working on a new movie) and the world of Ghibli followers entered despair. Ghibli makes/made traditional Japanese animation – sublime animation – animation that is revered. Hiromasa Yonebayashi was the youngest on the Ghibli director staff roster. He became known for directing ARIETTY and then WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE. He has moved on and is part of the new production company Studio Ponoc, founded by ex Ghibli animators. MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER is their first animation.

MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER is out now on limited release (see next paragraph). It is rated PG and runs for 102mins.

For all the locations playing in Australia and New Zealand please check your local cinema directories or check out the listing at Madman Films HERE.


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One day, while spending the summer with her great aunt, Mary follows an odd cat into the nearby woods. There she stumbles upon flowers which hold a strange, luminescent power that brings a broomstick to life — which then, in a heartbeat, whisks her above the clouds and off to a strange and secret place. It is here she finds Endor College – a school of magic!

Even though the penalties for imposters are harsh, Mary enters the Endor College campus. And despite a complete lack of magical knowledge, she demonstrates surprising promising abilities. However, she quickly discovers that all is not as it seems at the school – there have been strange experiments taking place behind closed doors, and all too soon, she comes face to face with great danger – and a life-changing choice.


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MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER is a mild cross between HARRY POTTER and KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE. Basically there is a girl that flies on a broom that ends up at a witches and wizard’s school but nothing is what it seems at the school and there is a big dollop of evil thrown in for good measure. There is even the voice of Jim Broadbent (English version) to give you some Harry Potter voices on the screen. You may also recognise one of my goddesses, Kate Winslet, as Madam Mumblechook. MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER is based on The Little Broomstick, a 1971 children’s novel by popular British author Mary Stewart. Could this novel have been an inspiration for J.K. Rowling and subconsciously imprinted on her mind as a child?

The magic and the visuals of the school are wonderful and ideally this movie would benefit from the big screen. I watched it home and while I have a massive TV I would have loved this about three stories high. There are so many odd creatures and fantasy elements present onscreen. Big bubbles, transfiguration (as a main theme), odd looking creatures and good versus dark magic. The similarities to Harry Potter’s themes are nearly exact.


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MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER is basically Ghibli 2.0. It might not have Ghibli in the studio name but it is all Ghibli alumni in the making. The film embraces the traditional and beautiful animation techniques from Ghibli keeping everything 2D and maintaining the same style. The story follows a similar path. Hiromasa Yonebayashi delivers another stunning movie that I am certain Hayao Miyazaki would be proud of. It keeps to the simplicity of story that is prevalent in Ghibli but sadly lacks the story polishing that the master’s production company regularly deployed.

Mary’s character herself lacks a backstory of sorts. Well, she has one, but it isn’t fully explained. She is living with her Great Aunt Charlotte, apparently, before her parents arrive. This section of the plot was odd and never fleshed out. Could Mary not have had a greater conflict in her life? Could her parents not have somehow been killed in the aftermath of the opening sequence lending her character greater depth and purpose to the plot? In this she comes off as a somewhat spoiled brat, especially with her initial overreaction and rudeness to Peter. She fully redeems her character but overall she is quite “plain-Jane” and everything falls into her life quite literally. 


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It isn’t quite HARRY POTTER and it isn’t quite GHIBLI but my god it’s a wonderful distant cousin of the two. If you want a simplistic and beautiful movie to look at for the entire family then MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER is for you!





 owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the  industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.


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