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The spiritual successor to Kiki’s Delivery Service and Howl’s Moving Castle is most definitely here. With Mary and the Witch’s Flower, Studio Ponoc have created a beautiful film for both children and adults to fall in love with.
The film is based on The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, and tells the story of a young, red-headed girl, who finds a mystical flower and a whole world of magical possibilities.
Like all the best children’s movies, it has a solid, emotional core, and an important message. Throughout the film, our heroine, Mary Smith, learns to find power within herself, and be happy with the person she is. At the start, she feels purposeless and dissatisfied, but her adventures give her an insight into her own strength.
From a feminist perspective, this film is pure gold. Mary Smith is a strong, complex female protagonist, who develops a platonic bond with a male friend, Peter, and rescues him from terrible danger.
Unlike countless Disney movies, this film doesn’t need a romantic story-line or some kind of royalty to make the story tick. And of course, the lack of male-female platonic relationships isn’t just limited to children’s movies. These kind of friendships are absent in most movies for grown-ups too.
Another key theme in Mary and the Witch’s Flower is of found family. Mary gathers her own unconventional group around her, showing that family need not always mean blood relation. There’s Great Aunt Charlotte, Miss Banks, Zebedee, Peter, and the cats Gib and Tib.
I have always been impressed with the characterisation of animals in Studio Ghibli films, giving great personality to characters which do not always speak.
Studio Pinoc’s debut effort is similar in this respect. Gib and Tib have a fantastic presence in the film, without ever saying a word. This is a credit to both the animation and the script.
The setting of Great Aunt Charlotte’s village is visually stunning, with carefully researched architecture and plant life. But it’s Endor College, the magical school, which really impressed me. It’s an incredible feat of imagination, full of spectacular, colourful designs which I have never seen before.
The school is run by Madame Mumblechook and Dr Dee, whose lust for power is their downfall. They want to mess with nature, and in Studio Ghibli films, that was always a bad idea.
It seems Studio Pinoc films are no different. In an age where most people are removed from the natural world, it’s wonderful to see films which celebrate the environment and encourage us to protect it.
This is exemplified in a triumphant moment – when the animals captured by Mumblechook and Dee turn on their oppressors, helping Mary and Peter escape. This was perhaps my favourite moment of the entire film.
The idea that some power cannot be harnessed is also an interesting one, as Mumblechook and Dee are doomed to fail with their experiments. Stories about the misuse of power are always going to be relevant.
The spirit of Studio Ghibli lives on, and I can’t wait to see what Studio Ponoc has in store for us next.