Mary and the Witch’s Flower (MWF) is a Studio Ponoc production by director Hiromasa Yonebayashi (When Marnie Was There and The Secret World of Arrietty). Yonebayashi is a former animator and director for Studio Ghibli, and the influence clear as day.
First thing’s first: MWF it is absolutely GORGEOUS and its soundtrack pleasantly lodges itself into your head. MWF also has the distinction of being one of five anime films that made this year’s list for a possible Oscar nomination. The hype for this movie is real, but it didn’t live up to “masterpiece” standards.
I had a weird feeling about 75% of the way through the movie like, it’s missing something. It has all these Ghibli qualities, but not the Ghibli feel. For the longest time, I couldn’t tell, but then it struck me. It’s full of unanswered questions.
**Low-Level Spoilers Below**
One day, Mary follows a cat, Tib, into a forest and finds the titular Witch’s Flower. This flower gives the person who smashes it infinite witch power for an indeterminate amount of time (the length of time is completely random). And on the next day, Mary finds a broom, which without being told to do so, takes her to a witch academy in the clouds…for a reason that isn’t explained. Said broom also constantly fluctuates between listening to Mary’s commands and ignoring them completely.
Upon arrival at the school, everyone accepts Mary instantly. Everyone from the professors to the headmistress thinks she’s a new student. How? Why? Did every student arrive there shortly after touching a random broom? No one at the school could have been expecting her because Mary doesn’t have any witch powers of her own. None of this is explained.
The Headmistress (Madame Mumblechook) and Doctor Dee want to use the flowers to give their students complete and unlimited witch powers…for unexplained reasons.
And that leads me to another point. There’s maybe 8 characters in this whole film and only one of them is fleshed out: There’s Mary, Peter (the him-sel in distress), Grandma Charlotte, Miss Banks (the maid), Zebedee (the assh*le groundskeeper), Flanagan (the cat/deus ex-machina on a broom), and Madame Mumblechook and Doctor Dee (protagonists). Mary is the only character whose development makes you care and worry. The other seven characters are exposition dumps, for rescuing, a plot convenience, and under-developed villains.
The funny thing is though, I don’t mind the McGuffin of the film—the witch’s flower. This flower just gives full witch powers to any non-witch. Why? Who knows, but I can accept it wholeheartedly. It’s a magical and whimsical element and doesn’t need explanation.
In the end, this movie left me wanting. Like I said, it was up for an Oscar nomination and I’m holding it up to those standards. Comparatively, A Silent Voice is a masterpiece that still affects me months after seeing it. I can’t say the same about MWF even four days later.
It’s visually captivating and a fun watch, but that’s about it.