Studio Ghibli seems to be unable to get out from under Miyazaki’s shadow.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower is the new coming-of-age story about a young woman being transported to magical world and overcoming great obstacles. I like Ghibli, but that previous sentence describes more or less 80% of the company’s work, and this film follows suit. One would hope to see something new since Miyazaki retired (though it seems that was short lived), but alas, we have another contrived narrative.
Similarities in narratives aren’t necessarily problematic, but one would expect something new to be brought to the table. I honestly think there isn’t an original scene or thought in this entire film. We have a borderline plagiarized Harry Potter set-up, followed by a Spirited Away/Howl’s Moving Castle vibe with a little Akira (albeit a PG Akira) for spice. Nothing new—at all. We end up with a story that is a lesser copy of better originals.
Oddly, this film seems to be a major success. I can’t imagine I am the only one who feels this is just a ripped off cookie-cutter of a film, but it seems I am in the minority. Anything with Ghibli attached to it tends to have a rabid fan following, and I can appreciate that on some level. However, we should demand better from a company that was once the leader of releasing original and thoughtful narratives.
Our titular Mary is more or less a non-character. She is bad at everything, and is randomly transported to a magical college. After interacting with a rare flower, Mary possesses witch-like powers for about a day, and is able to trick a lot of the staff at the school. However, they realize the trick, and this puts Mary and her bully Peter in danger. I mark Peter as a bully because he is. We are never given any scene of him growing or changing, nope—he is pretty much an asshole to her until he is captured. Obviously, Mary must do her best to save the young man, but we aren’t really given a reason why. The whole “oh, it’s the right thing to do” mantra doesn’t really work here as we see Mary as kind, but not heroic.
The drive-by storytelling doesn’t allow us to become invested in anything too long before the rug is pulled. A sleepy pastoral setting—skip, a magical interaction with animals—skip, a magical college—skip, and so on. It seems they were more concerned with meeting a quota of tropes than allowing anything to develop. Further, we never get an answer to why—for anything.
Less than halfway through the film I was ready for it to be over. I felt like I was watching something where the writers kind of forgot to write anything, and instead we get a contrived generator pumping out expected scenarios with no real purpose. I’d talk more about the plot, but what plot?
The film looks fine. The quality of animation has always been top-notch at Ghibli, and this is no exception. However, this is really the only perk of the film. Watching just about any film in their catalogue would yield a more enjoyable experience. Possibly one of the biggest disappointments of 2018. Don’t waste your time unless you’re a die-hard fan of the genre.