Saturday, January 20, 2018

Mary and the Witch's Flower

Well, that's one birthday present for my niece that loves Harry Potter sorted in a few months, which is a big part of what I wanted from this movie. Look, with four nieces and not wanting to repeat presents between them too much, a well-made movie with a pre-teen girl as the lead is a precious thing.

I was kind of expecting it to get more of a release than it seems to be getting, though - for a while, the emails from GKids were implying a wide release on the 19th, so I put off buying tickets for the special preview event until it started to seem like there wouldn't be a wide(ish) release, not even at just Boston Common or the Kendall. It meant I had to scramble to buy tickets, and pretty much all that was left was the very front and somewhat off-center or toward the back. Being me, I go for the front row and, yeah, that's not quite ideal. But I got to see it, at least.

I'm kind of surprised this isn't getting a wider release; it's pretty darn good and looks a darn sight better than at least half of the stuff you see getting previews before other family-friendly movies. I mean, honestly, parents, would you rather your kids had the opportunity to see this or Sherlock Gnomes, to say nothing about that awful-looking Peter Rabbit movie?

Mary to majo no hana (Mary and the Witch's Flower)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen on 18 January 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #10 (Fathom Events, DCP)

Though it's generally unfair to compare every cel-animated film that comes out of Japan to those of Studio Ghibli, especially if they made with kids in mind, this one invites it: Not only is the style fairly similar, but the filmmakers worked at Ghibli and built their new studio to do the same kind of work once that studio shifted to maintaining their catalog rather than producing new material. Also, I'd lay money that one character, a wise but curmudgeonly gardener, was modeled on Hayao Miyazaki. So it's not entirely unfair to watch the opening and tag it as Kiki's Delivery Service with a bit of Castle in the Sky mixed in, or flip those proportions when describing it later. What's important is that it turns out to be a worthy successor.

That opening gambit has a witch sneaking out of the building she's just burgled, chased by flying octopi as she escapes on her broom. She and her cargo eventually fall from the sky, her broom lost as the magical seeds dropped cause it to be swallowed by the woods. That broom will be found by Mary Smith (voiced by Hana Sugisaki in Japanese and Ruby Barnhill in English), a clumsy but well-meaning girl with unruly red hair who has moved to this small town ahead of her parents. The only other kid around is Peter (voices of Ryunosuke Kamiki and Louis Ashbourne Serkis), who teases her when running errands for the neighbors. Soon, a black cat has led Mary to the broom and a strange blue flower, with the broom launching like a rocket and bringing Mary to a school for magicians high above the clouds. There, Madam Mumblechook (voices of Yuki Amami and Kate Winslet) and Doctor Dee (voices of Fumiyo Kohinata and Jim Broadbent) tell her that she must be a prodigy to have found her way there - but down on earth, gardener Zebedee (voices of Ken'ichi Endo and Rasmus Hardiker) is telling Mary's Great-Aunt Charlotte (voices of Shinobu Otake and Lyna Baron) that Peter has gone missing.

I'm curious how much of Mary Stewart's novel The Little Broomstick director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and co-writer Riko Sakaguchi have altered in their adaptation, and how much they tried to leave as-is. At times, the movie shows a little bit of awkwardness that may be attributed to going from an English-language novel to a Japanese movie that was later subtitled in English, or maybe the filmmakers giving much more time to exploration than explanation. Wherever it comes from, though, they have an interesting tendency for what can seem like a half-twist, neither entirely sticking to the expectations that come with a kid who doesn't quite fit into the regular world discovering she may be meant for more nor completely subverting them. The filmmakers may occasionally stumble when embracing that sort of ambiguity, but it makes Mary a more interesting character and Endor College a more interesting place.

Full review at EFC

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