‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ – a magical odyssey on Netflix

Hiromasa Yonebayashi directs the animated fantasy based on the children's novel by British author Mary Stewart

Mary and the Witch’s Flower (Japan, 2017), the magical fantasy by Japanese animator and filmmaker Hiromasa Yonebayashi (director of the marvelous When Marnie Was There), based on a children’s novel by British author Mary Stewart, follows the adventures of a schoolgirl who receives magical powers for a day from a magical flower that blooms once every seven years.

Mary (voiced by Ruby Barnhill, the girl in Steven Spielberg’s The BFG, in the English language version) is a transfer student moved into her great aunt’s rural manor in advance of her parents. She doesn’t know a soul and, with no internet, TV, or video games, she distracts herself in the garden and the woods, which has absorbed the dormant magic of a fallen young wizard years before. It bestows the energy on the curious girl and a flying broom that whisks Mary away to Endor College, a Hogwarts-like school of magic run by headmistress Madam Mumblechook (voiced by Kate Winslet in the English language version) and a wizard scientist (Jim Broadbent) who want the magical flower for their own experiments.

Yonebayashi was an animator for Hayao Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli and he honors the master’s work with his sweet, playful film and his young heroine. The self-conscious, timid Mary, with her wild red hair and innate clumsiness, rouses her courage and finds the strength to fight the adult wizards when they kidnap a human boy to force Mary to bring them the rare buds.

The 1971 source novel came decades before the Harry Potter books and the film offers its own version of a magic school fantasy, and the clean hand-drawn animation and storybook images offers a lovely alternative to the busy computer animated films that dominate American screens. It’s a simple, uncomplicated film that never reaches the dramatic power or mythic scope of the Miyazaki’s greatest films but is entertaining and enjoyable in its own right.

English language version, rated PG

Queue it up!

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Mary and The Witch’s Flower [Blu-ray]
Mary and The Witch’s Flower [DVD]

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The Blu-ray+DVD combo and DVD only editions from Universal Home Video presents the film with Japanese and English language soundtracks and optional English subtitles, plus featurettes and filmmaker interviews (in Japanese with subtitles).

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears in Vulture, Turner Classic Movies online, Keyframe, and Parallax View.

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