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PandaGeneral

  • Australia
  • Joined Apr 20, 2009
  • ? / M

Note: The following is a brief reflection of my personal feelings on the film rather than a comprehensive review.

Having just watched Mary and the Witch's Flower I find myself leaving the experience feeling quite disappointed. When I first heard about the film I was quite excited at the prospect of the newly created Studio Ponoc taking up the mantle of Studio Ghibli and creating a brand new work of a similar style and subject matter. The trailer made the film look fantastic; however, the trailer itself turned out to be more fantastic than the movie. In hindsight I realise that I should have kept my expectations in check since it turned out that the film was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi whose previous film The Secret of Arriety I also had a uninspired experience with. When I look back on both films I realise that despite both being beautifully animated, they suffer from similar issues, such as poor pacing, less than stellar storytelling, unremarkable sound and bland characters with superficial personalities lacking in any sort of complexity or depth. 

The story follows Mary Smith (one of the dullest names you could possibly thing of), a young girl bored out of her mind in a small country town in the last week of her summer holiday before school starts. Whilst meandering around the countryside trying to pass the time she follows a stray cat into the woods and finds a glowing magical flower and an old broomstick. Shortly after this discovery, the broomstick comes to life and whisks her away into the sky only to stumble upon a hidden magical academy for witches. While this introduction seems like an easy thing to execute whilst keeping the audience engaged, Mary and the Witch's Flower achieves in making what should be a routine setup to the story feel like an eternity. Instead of efficiently moving through these events in order to get to magical witch academy where the plot should gain momentum, we're stuck being introduced to unneccessary characters who end up having seemingly no impact on the outcome of the story, and watching Mary play this all out at an  excruciatingly slow pace. The audience knows that something magical is going to happen to Mary, spending what felt like forty minutes on something that could easily be achieved in ten is a colossal waste of everyone's time and not an effective way to get them invested in the story. This issue with pacing is rife throughout the film, making a one hour and forty minute film feel like three hours, causing the audience to be constantly hoping that the film would just hurry up and get to the point from start to finish.

Apart from the pacing of the film, the story structure is also fundamentally flawed. Events seem to occur in succession in an uninteresting and plain manner, and while there is nothing wrong with the plot points in particular, the way that they unfold lacks any sort of uniqueness or character. Things just happen in an unremarkable way and as audience member I find myself simply bored. Overall, the basic layout of the story could have been made into a watchable movie, however the way that it ends up being told leaves much to be desired.

The characters in Mary and the Witch's Flower all share the same problem of being overly superficial and completely devoid of any sort of depth. Mary, the main character of the film, fails to be likable or of interest to the audience in any way.  She becomes a magical witch, but we the audience don't like or care for her in the slightest. She has a thin personality with almost no redeeming qualities, and by the end of the film hasn't seemed to have grown in any informed or meaningful way. The same could be said about all of the characters in the film. Despite the likes of Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent providing decent voice acting in the english dub, their efforts cannot save the shallow surface level characters that are rife throughout the film. 

Whilst so far I have only passed harsh critiscms on why I greatly disliked the film, I must give credit to the high quality animation and backgrounds that Studio Ponoc have created, which is on par with the excellent animation of previous Ghibli efforts like Arriety. Although I must still note that the great animation is not enough to save the film.

Sound can be an easily overlooked aspect of films, however when you're film has been created by veterans of Studio Ghibli both sound and music must be of highest quality to meet audience expectations. Mary and the Witch's Flower only manages passing grade in terms of sound and music, being merely adequate enough to not create offence. It is a tall order and somewhat unfair to be compared to the likes of Joe Hisiashi, a master of composition and half the reason why Hayao Miyazaki's films were as good as they were; the truth of the matter is that if your film is going to be compared to the likes of Studio Ghibli this sort of comparison is unavoidable. 

In conclusion, I very much wanted to enjoy Mary and the Witch's Flower and for it to be a good film, however it fails to be one due to it's sub-standard storytelling ,pacing and thin characters. If you want a great Ghibli experience, you're better off watching one of the classics. 

3/10 story
8/10 animation
6/10 sound
1/10 characters
3/10 overall

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