Hiromasa Yonebayashi is hardly a household name, admittedly it’s a name that trips off the tongue only to fall flat on its face, but the director is a big name in anime have worked on a number of respected films in the genre. ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ is the third film he’s helmed and is based on the children’s book ‘The Little Broomstick’ by the late British author Mary Stewart.
Mary (the lead character not the author) lives a hum drum life with her aunt in a remote cottage and boy is it a hum drum existance because almost nothing happens for the first 25 minutes which is when we first started to look at our watch. The film does open with a brief action sequence with creatures that look like doodles from the back of a sixth formers school exercise book. But after this initial flurry of excitement Mary fills her time wandering around the, albeit beautifully rendered, scenary where her cottage is located. Yonebayashi and his team have done their research well because the settings have an almost watercolour painting feel but it’s quite jarring to find the country setting clashing with the anime styled characters that populate it. It’s a style which never settles down until the second act after Mary has found a rare flower that transports her on a broomstick to a faraway magical city in the clouds where a pair of malevolent inventors need the magical flower for experiments which has resulted in some unsavoury genetic mutations locked in their dungeon.
The city in the clouds setting with its cast of characters and their magical powers owes much to Harry Potter but the story is more centred on people using their powers for good and here Mary, along with a friend called Peter, attempt to thwart the evil duo Madame Mumblechook (Kate Winslet) and Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent). There are some stunning and surreal visuals but overall it’s not a wholly engaging story being at times a little too wilfully far out and a dreary first act might well have children quickly bored before getting any further into the films 102 minute running time.
And that is the problem with many of these anime films is that they are very much a niche market that appeals more to adults than children unlike the Pixar films which generally have something for everyone. Whether Mary and the Witch’s Flower will appeal to youngsters is unlikely with it’s slow start, its subtitles (if you’re seeing the original Japanese version) and despite the whiff of Potter-dom this is just not engaging enough.
Here’s the trailer…….