Published in 1971, The Little Broomstick was memorable both for its feisty heroine and beautiful storytelling. While sweeping up leaves with a small broom, Mary accidentally smears the broom in the juice of a fly-by-night flower. Immediately, the little broomstick leaps to life and Mary and her cat, Tib, are transported to Endor school of witchcraft.
Hiromasa Yonebayashi and his new baby—Studio Ponoc—have taken this much-loved classic as the inspiration for their first full-length animated feature, Mary And The Witch’s Flower. And, while the book could be surprisingly abrupt at times, Ponoc’s adaptation is wonderfully warm, with lush visuals and heartfelt storytelling. This is not that surprising from a man who honed his craft as a key animator at Studio Ghibli. In fact, fans will find many nods here to films such as Howl’s Moving Castle in both character design and atmosphere.
Perhaps because we’ve all become so used children’s films that are loud and frenetic, it’s tempting to see the calmer, slower pace of The Witch’s Flower as something that only youngsters will appreciate. However, the success of films like Spirited Away, and (recently) Paddington proves that there are plenty of people who enjoy a well-told tale without a throbbing soundtrack and over-the-top action sequences.
The tale itself is set firmly in period and, when paired with traditional cell animation, the result is a new film that feels like a lost classic. It also has an important message—and one that seems especially apt. in these changeable times. While many films and books present us with heroes and heroines who are born special, Mary is an ordinary girl whose ‘magic’ is based on her is determination to do the right thing.
This September’s release features both the original Japanese language version and the superb English dub on all editions. As a bonus for fans, the Special Edition Steelbook will include limited edition art cards and a booklet featuring the original dialogue script. All in all, a spectacular first outing for a new animation studio that promises great things.