This smooth and beautiful animation was produced by the Studio Ponoc, staffed with people who worked at the famous Studio Ghibli. The movie is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (who was a key animator at Studio Ghibli and director of The Secret World of Arrietty  and When Marnie Was There ), with a screenplay by Hiromasa Yonebayashi & Riko Sakaguchi and character designs by Akihiko Yamashita. It is based on Mary Stewart‘s 1971 children’s novel The Little Broomstick (although it is never mentioned in the staff interview included with the Dvd).
Mary and The Witch’s Flower (メアリと魔女の花 / Meari to Majo no Hana) offers a good storytelling and quite a cute story but it doesn’t really look original at all. It rather feels like it is a mishmash of every Ghibli designs: the witch part is vaguely reminiscent of Kiki’s Delivery Service, the witch school in the sky reminds me a little of Laputa: Castle in the Sky, a herd of animal fleeing seems similar to a scene in Princess Mononoke, a costume design evokes Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the girl being away from home with some distant family members is similar to When Marnie was There, etc. This could be explained by the fact that most animators learned their skills while working at Ghibli. However, the influences are not limited to this source: Doctor Dee’s design makes me think of Dragonball’s Master Roshi and even Harry Potter makes a cameo appearance in one of the school classroom! I guess it was all intended as hommage or humour.
If I found this a little odd, I was not really annoyed by it. The movie is good entertainment (critical rating of 87% on Rotten Tomatoes) and, if you don’t feel the same depth as in Ghibli’s productions, I was still quite glad that another major studio (even if this is their first real movie) would continue to produce traditional full length anime. Indeed, with the closing of Studio Ghibli after Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement, I really hope that Studio Ponoc will become its rightful heir… So, all in all, it is definitely worth watching. It is available on Netflix and on Dvd.
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