PG, but that's because the world of witches can be kind of scary. There's definitely some scary stuff happening and the art is so good, that it actually comes across as kind of scary. But the movie as a whole definitely has a PG vibe to it. It is aimed at kids and the tone overall fits a younger audience. My son was really cool with it, but he's very comfortable with Ponyo as well. PG.
DIRECTORS: Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Giles New
Oh man, I'm running out of movies to write about. I didn't think it would happen. I was so far behind on reviewing them that I started to watch TV. Then I looked at my list and saw that I only have three movies left. What am i going to do? I have to convince those people I know to watch a movie. But not only do I have to convince them to watch a movie, it has to be a movie that I haven't written about. We watched Jaws last night. I love that movie. Too bad I have already written about it. But I was sitting on watching Mary and the Witch's Flower for a while. I don't know why I wasn't in the mood when I first saw this on Netflix. But it was family movie night and it was inside my list, so we explored it.
The biggest question mark I had over my head was the relation that this movie had was its connection to Studio Ghibli. Admittedly, my knowledge of anime and the world of Japanese animation is basically limited to Ghibli. Immediately upon seeing the art from this movie, it screamed Ghibli. I have tried lots of other stuff, but usually get pretty turned off to most anime. There's a heavy Ghibli influence over this movie and that's because one of the animators for the Ghibli movies left to go start this studio. Part of that is great. After all, I love the Ghibli stuff. I will say that there's maybe a bit too much influence from the Ghibli background. The opening soldiers scream Ponyo. The character is just Kiki from Kiki's Delivery Service. The entire vibe of the magical world really feels like a solid photocopy of the world of Spirited Away. I'm sure there's more, but I can't give Mary and the Witch's Flower all the points in the world because there is something redundant about the whole thing.
In fact, the movie is so part of the Ghibli world that the movie really confused me for the first half hour. The movie's start shows The Red-Haired Witch escaping this scary place for a long time. She falls to Earth, her hair changes color...and we see a new red haired girl. Now, for a lot of the movie, I thought it was the same character. I thought Mary was the Red-Haired Girl. Did time pass? Was it a flashback? It was such a narrative break that wasn't addressed, I had no clue what was going on. The world of Kiki's Delivery Service has witches as part of society. It is a world of fantasy realism. But Mary lives in a world like ours. I had no idea. To Mary, witches aren't a thing. So I'm watching this movie for a good deal of time thinking, "Why isn't Mary flying?" When magic showed up, I thought that was just part of the world. Really, the first half-hour might be the most confusing kids movie I had seen in a while, mainly because I couldn't separate its influences.
But once I figured out the most basic plot ever and pulled my head out of my butt, the movie becomes this awesome story of self-sacrifice and finding value in oneself. It's interesting the filmmakers decided not to go heavy-handed with Mary's background. She's realistically klutzy. She makes mistakes that every child her age makes. She tries to be helpful, but keeps making silly mistakes. No one hates her for it. But the movie sets up the frustrations of adolescence well. The idea that every kid feels like an outsider and a failure at times is palpable. Going to a world where she's the star student, albeit in a world where she suffers from impostor syndrome, makes her feel special. She has the opportunity to join this world and to be the most impressive girl in the world. But that's what makes Mary interesting.
There are lots of kids' movies where a character really wants a talent. "I want to be the best [insert skill here]." Because the character believes in themselves, they are good at that. In the case of Mary, she stumbles across something accidentally. She is given these magic powers temporarily, which give her a much needed boost to her ego. But then she's given this opportunity to choose the objective good or to meet her subjective needs. She knows that everything that she's doing was a lie. (I didn't. I was convinced that she was an actual witch because the movie kept telling me that she was.) But she sees this dark undertone to the wizarding school. It's so bizarre because the movie makes this school super appealing. Who wouldn't want to be the star student at a school that let you fly and stuff? But Mary isn't the dumb character. She knows this is all too good to be true and it's this nice moment in the film where she isn't even tempted by this world where she could be aces.
Of course, her gut is accurate. The morality kind of gets a little muddied in this part of the movie. At best, I can see the questionable ethics of the professors in the movie as an anti-animal thing. Yeah, when she starts kidnapping people, they're scary, archvillain evil. In terms of narrative structure, its actually really weird. Mary makes her big moral choice to save Peter early in the film. She risks her life to go after Peter, despite the fact that the odds are against her. She frees all of the animals and is about the leave with Peter...when Peter is kidnapped again. The odd structure here is an odd choice. Does Mary make the same choice to save Peter? That's her character's decision. If anything, her quest is now easier because all of the animals have been saved. Where is her character's moral choice in this moment? It's kind of the same thing? Listen, I really like this movie. Like, I REALLY liked it. But it also is about an hour's worth of actual movie. Mary doesn't really have much of a character arc. She gets over her internal conflict pretty early. The rest of the movie is action and a quick explanation over the most confusing opening in the world. It's good, but it isn't very satisfying. The movie quickly evolves into action movie tropes.
But then why am I so emotionally moved by the film? Perhaps it comes from Mary's resolve to keep pushing herself. Perhaps her initial internal conflict comes from the conflict of ego vs. objective good. But then it becomes a story about a warrior growing into a heroine, despite lacking the physical advantage. Everything in the movie is about Mary being wildly outclassed in her abilities, yet standing up to bullies. But I also think that the movie amazing because of craftsmanship. These kinds of films are absolutely gorgeous. What Mary and the Witch's Flower lacks in storytelling, it makes up for in being an absolutely gorgeous movie. It is just a beautiful movie and the animation is so impressive throughout the story. Yeah, Ghibli really nails those small moments, but Witch's Flower is all about how immersive the movie really is. It pulls out the tricks to really make it the most flashy of the films. It is a gambit that works, but I would love a more immersive story.
I enjoyed the movie. It's a great movie, but it really kind of lacks a depth that some of the other movies in this genre do.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.