Based on the 1971 book The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, Mary and the Witch’s Flower brings the magic of this children’s tale to life through the talents of two Studio Ghibli alumni. 

Although anime powerhouse Studio Ghibli – made famous by Hayao Miyazaki and films like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away – has undergone a reshuffle and Miyazaki has ‘retired’ (even though he’s working on a new film!), the spirit of its animated features lives on in Mary and the Witch’s Flower.

The story follows Mary, a young girl who is living with her great aunt in a cottage called Red Manor while her parents are away working. One day she ventures out into the woods and discovers the Fly by Night flower – otherwise known as the Witch’s Flower. When its beads are squashed, it grants the holder magical powers for a limited amount of time.

“comparable to Studio Ghibli’s finest in its creativity”

Mary winds up at magic school Endor College, where she quickly learns her new abilities are more powerful than she could have imagined. However, when the college learns the source of her powers, the origin of the Witch’s Flower becomes paramount, and Mary discovers there’s something sinister going on behind the walls of Endor.

The inaugural film from Studio Ponoc, the Japanese animation house founded by former Studio Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura and director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Mary and the Witch’s Flower is comparable to Ghibli’s finest in its creativity, despite having a lower budget.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower scene

The art is equal parts beautiful, dynamic, and incredibly detailed – from the flickering fire bouncing off a torch sconce on a wall, to Mary’s hair billowing majestically behind her while riding on a broom. The English voice cast, too, is impressive, with Ruby Barnhill (The BFG) providing the voice of Mary, and Kate Winslet herself as the mysterious Madam Mumblechook. You’ll also recognise Jim Broadbent from the Harry Potter films as the scientist, Doctor Dee.

One of the most notable aspects of the film’s animation – and arguably of all Ghibli films – is the food. It’s mouth-watering. You’ll notice the rippling veins on the brussel sprouts, the steam rising off a freshly-cooked roast, and the deep colours of jams.

Equally immersive is the soundtrack, invoking whimsical fantasies, wonder and awe – there’s just something about the sound of a harpsichord.

There’s also something magical in seeing the obviously English countryside rendered in anime style, and the film’s subtle British sensibility should put it on Potterphiles’ radars as well as fans of the renowned Ghibli aesthetic, who will be excited to see what Studio Ponoc will do next.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is in cinemas on January 18

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DID YOU KNOW

The origin of the studio’s name, ponoc, comes from an expression in Croatian meaning “midnight” and “the beginning of a new day”.

The background art’s look in Mary and the Witch’s Flower was designed not to be overly detailed, but rather maintain a balance and harmony with the film’s animated characters.

Hiromasa Yonebayashi was a key animator with Studio Ghibli. His previous films as director are The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) and When Marnie Was There (2014).