Blu-Ray Review: Mary and the Witch’s Flower

Altitude Films brings us its first feature-length anime film in the form of Studio Ponoc’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower; but what can one expect from this film and in turn it’s Blu-Ray release? Well let’s take a look and find out.

Synopsis:

MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER introduces the spirited, red-haired Mary, spending the last weeks of summer in the English countryside with her Great-Aunt Charlotte. Following a mysterious black cat, Tib, into the woods she stumbles upon a magical flower that transforms a little broomstick into one that flies!

Mary is fast whisked away high above the clouds and transported to Endor College – a school of witchcraft and wizardry! Mary is warmly welcomed by headmistress Madame Mumblechook (Kate Winslet) and the eccentric Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent). Believing her to be a once-in-a-lifetime magical prodigy they give Mary a guided tour of the dazzling school and invite her to join. But Mary discovers all is not as it seems in this fantastical world and finds herself confronting great danger – soon she has to call on all her courage if she is to save the day.

Our View:

Animated by Studio Ponoc, and rather stunningly I might add, Mary and the Witch’s Flower has the aesthetic of a Studio Ghilib film but look beyond its wounderful animation quality and its vivid colourful world and you’ll find a story that lacks depth and passion with a voice cast that feels unnatural in a somewhat familiar world of Magic. Potentially harsh words indeed but while the soul and passion can be find in the animation, which to some would simply be classed as a Studio Ghibli clone, the same cannot be found within its 100 minute run time of a story.

The story of Mary and the Witch’s Flower follows the unlikely adventure of Mary Smith, a seemingly average girl who finds herself moved out to the countryside and living with family relatives until her parents move up later in the year. It’s at this point that the first sense of familiarity sets in with the story taking a very reminiscent nod to Arrietty, in which a young boy moves to the countryside and away from the city in order to recuperate from poor health; albeit this time the main character has simply moved away for unknown reasons. Regardless of the situation the story moves forward with Mary exploring her surroundings within the countryside; that is until she meets a Black and Grey cat later to be revealed as Gibb and Tibb.

It’s here the the real story of Mary and the Witch’s Flower begins to surface; as after finding a mysterious flower – known as the Fly By Night – Mary is given the power of a witch and soon finds herself whisked away into the clouds by a nearby broomstick and eventually arriving at a mysterious school. It’s at this point that Mary and the Witch’s Flower begins to offer another reminiscent nod to another franchise; in this case Harry Potter as the school is non-other-than a school used to train budding witches and wizards in performing the magical arts; with familiars and broomstick’s their trusted companions. This ‘wizrding world’ is explained by headmistress Madame Mumblechook (voiced by Kate Winslet in the English Dub) and the mad-scientist come teacher Doctor Dee (voiced by Jim Broadbent in the English Dub).

If Mary’s short-lived-exploration of this magic school wasn’t enough to satisfy your ‘harry potter’ thirst then Jim Broadbent voicing Doctor Dee in the English Dub should quench your thirst; as for those unfamiliar Jim Broadbent played Professor Horace Slughorn within the Harry Potter franchise and both roles are portrayed in a similar manner. Regardless of this portrayal when Madame Mumblechook and Doctor Dee discover that Mary obtained the powers of a witch through the use of a certain flower (yet again known as the Fly By Night) the two concoct a plan to have Mary bringing them the flowers by kidnapping Peter, who is a boy within the neighbourhood that Mary has only encounter briefly, and forcing Mary to hand them over. As you’d expect Mary fights back by using the power to return to the school in order to save her friend(?) from being turned into something not so human; and in doing so discovers the darker side of Doctor Dee and Madame Mumblechook.

Generally speaking the plot within Mary and the Witch’s Flower has a limp-wristed-approach to storytelling and the only compelling argument to carry on watching is to explore the wounderful animation style and the respectable voice cast. The introductory portions of the story are well paced and presented, with the tease being that Mary will use the magic she has obtained to excel at school – with an enemy threat lurking in the background; but this is not to be. Instead the story diverts down an unusual path which sees Doctor Dee and Madame Mumblechook being the real threat as they wish to use the flower to conduct experiments which see humans evolved into a higher being. As such the later half of the film begins to fall under its own story with Mary being forced into three (if not four) rescue attempts before being allowed to succeed.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower, and true to studio ghibli spirit, also offers no real sense of danger; as while danger does occur – whether it be attacking magical creatures, kidnapping teachers or hateful neighbours, everything is forgiven by the end of the film. No grudges, no regrets which makes the build-up of everything set before rather misleading. But this is only a minor complaint in a film that starts off well but fails to please. Mary and the Witch’s Flower looks stunning and has a superb voice talent (both in English & Japanese), even if someone voice actors do not feel at home in the characters they are trying to represent, but it ultimately fails to fill the void that is sto desperately trying to create. A Studio Ghibli wannabe that looks just as good but doesn’t succeed in the storytelling department; but that’s just my view.

Extras:

Regardless of the experiences with the film there is no denying that Altitude Films have provided a well endowed Blu-Ray with a whole host of bonus features that range from promotional trailers, such as Japanese TV Spots to Western Cinematic Trailers, to behind the scenes interviews and promotional events.

This is how Blu-Ray releases of films should be presented; with all promotional assets from Japan in addition to those made within the west; a top-class release for a mediocre film. A list of the bonus features found in this Blu-Ray release are listed below:

  • NTV Special: Creating Mary and The Witch’s Flower
  • A Special Conversation: Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura
  • Film Completion Press Conference
  • Theatrical Promo movie
  • Interview with Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura
  • Trailer
  • TV Spots

While this Blu-Ray does feature an exceptional amount of supplementary content, all of which combined equal the length of the film itself, the way it is presented on the disc is rather concerning. Each Special Feature is listed on its own screen and viewers will have to press next in order to go to the next page. This is vastly different to other Blu-Ray releases that have the features listed full screen and as such can make finding the bonus features a chore.

Disregarding this ‘design choice’ the highlights for these bonus features (of which are exclusive to the Blu-ray variation of this film) are NTV Special: Creating Mary and The Witch’s Flower, A Special Conversation: Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura, Film Completion Press Conference and Interview with Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura; as these further explore the development and production of the film as well as explore what it was like to promote the film within Japan. These are a glimpse into the anime world that we so very rarely get to see on releases nowadays; and I am glad that Altitude films were able to have these available for us in the UK to watch.

Specs:

Media:  BD 50
Region: B
Running Time: 1:42:42
Video: MPEG-4 AVC
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (English & Japanese)
Subtitles: English (White)
Resolution: 1920×1080 (1080p)
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Frame Rate: 23.976 fps

Overall:

Mary and the Witch’s Flower has the essence of a Studio Ghibli film with its beautifully animated and crafted world but despite this the story it tries to portray is rather unforfilling and a bit empty. In this case Mary and the Witch’s Flower follows Mary Smith as she obtains magical powers after finding a special flower known as the fly by night. This new power, along with a broomstick with a mind of its own, introduces Mary to the world of magic through the magic school and its main faculty members Madame Mumblechook and Doctor Dee. This is all a pretence though as the school is *now* a front for their experiments which sees them trying to us the fly by night flower in order to create the perfect human.

This is where Mary’s responsibilities begin to bear fruit; as when Madame Mumblechook and Doctor Dee kidnap a neighbour known as Peter, Mary uses the fly by night in an attempt to perform a rescue mission and stop these would-be-teachers from their experiments. It’s an interesting story for sure but how it is portrayed and presented to the viewer results in a rather empty experience that doesn’t offer a sense of fulfilment of joy. Personally it would have been more interesting for the film to follow Mary through magic school until a new enemy threat (outside of the school) located the flowers; of which would have spiralled a conflict between the school and the enemy; but alas that is not to be. At the very least Mary and the Witch’s Flower does provide a similar Studio Ghibli experience; but a mediocre one at that.

The film aside this Blu-Ray release by Altitude Films is exceptional; albeit with a few unique quirks. The positives are that the film is presented cleanly in both English and Japanese (both of which are 5.1 Surround Sound audio tracks with a talented voice cast) and this film is presented alongside a strong selection of bonus features that go beyond the film in order to look at its production and promotion within Japan.

The quirks of this release are that the English & Japanese audio options are considered as two separate video tracks; and as such you cannot change audio options while watching the film. Starting the film in English will play the film in English and the only way to change to the Japanese version of the film is to go to the main menu and selecting the Japanese version of the film; after which (if you have been watching the film) you would have to use the chapter select – but with only ten chapters it can be difficult to get anywhere near where you may have been.

That’s not the only disappointment either as the film does not feature a signs and songs track; so any Japanese text (that is if any appears at all) and the ending song are not translated with subtitles. The final quirk is that the bonus features are separated across individual pages as opposed to being shown on one screen. Naturally this is a design choice but it does make locating a specific bonus feature difficult to find and time consuming; especially those unfamiliar with the menu layout.

Overall this Blu-Ray release of  Mary and the Witch’s Flower is an exceptional release with a high quality film presented in all it’s glory with an exceptional selection of bonus features; but despite all of the praise for this Blu-Ray release (and its minor quirks) the film itself is mediocre at best. A great first attempt by Studio Ponoc but it could have been a much better film.

Score: review-stars-4

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Limited Edition Steel Book Blu-Ray.

About Scott Emsen
Scott is the Founder and Executive Editor of AnimeBlurayUK but in the past he has worked at ZOMGPlay, Rice Digital and Funstock and was once a Community Moderator for the Nokia N-Gage forums. Based in the UK, he loves anything related to Games & Anime and in In his spare time you'll mostly find him playing on one of his many gaming consoles; namely the PS Vita, PS4 or Xbox One.

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