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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mary and the Witch's Flower is an anime adaptation of Mary Stewart's 1971 children's fantasy novel The Little Broomstick. It has frequent peril and potentially frightening chases, plus kidnapping, transformation of humans into animals, and other forms of magical aggression/violence. Fans of the Harry Potter series will see similar themes here -- the discovery of a previously unknown magical world, a prestigious magical school, a special child who must defeat evil, and more -- though all with a girl main character. Directed by veteran Studio Ghibli filmmaker Hiromasa Yonebayashi and made in the same style as some of his other films (When Marnie Was There, The Secret World of Arrietty), the fantasy has messages about believing in yourself, being courageous and generous, and more. The dubbed version includes voice performances by Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent. The movie will be returning to theaters for a limited run on Feb. 24 and Feb. 26. Find your nearest theater here.
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Stop comparing everything urban or contemporary fantasy to Harry Potter, Common Sense. This is a much gentler, more lighthearted fantasy
What's the story?
MARY AND THE WITCH'S FLOWER is based on prolific author Mary Stewart's 1971 fantasy book The Little Broomstick. It centers on Mary Smith (voiced by Ruby Barnhill), a young English girl who's staying with her Great Aunt Charlotte in the picturesque countryside for the summer. Mary is kind, but a bit clumsy -- and bored, with nothing exciting to do. Everything changes when she follows a cat into the woods, where a mysterious glowing flower and a little broomstick transport Mary to another realm, and she's assumed to be a new student at the prestigious magical school known as Endor College. It turns out that the glowing flower, called Fly-by-Night, only blooms once every seven years and has granted Mary temporary magical powers that she isn't ready to possess. At Endor College, headmistress Madam Mumblechook (Kate Winslet) mistakes Mary for an impressively advanced witch ... until the older woman discovers the truth and teams up with the school's resident mad scientist, Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent), to steal the flower and take over the world.
Is it any good?
An ideal choice for Harry Potter and Studio Ghibli devotees, this animated fantasy adventure about a seemingly unremarkable English girl who enters a magical world is sweetly enchanting. Mary is a lovable klutz with bushy red hair and a penchant for making a mess of things. She's incredibly easy to root for, an adorably awkward and determined underdog who manages to summon the courage necessary to face considerable danger to rescue her new friend Peter (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Andy Serkis' son). The English voice ensemble is well cast, with Winslet seeming to relish her villainous role, Broadbent a perfect pick for the mad professor, and Barnhill an authentic choice for the starring role.
With Mary and the Witch's Flower, Studio Ponoc -- the Japanese animation studio founded by former Ghibli animators after that legendary company closed -- continues Ghibli's tradition of sweeping adventures starring young girls dealing with supernatural surroundings. The animators clearly love detailing the English countryside; it's rendered beautifully here, with the forest's greens, blues, and browns a lovely backdrop to Mary's earthbound action. The magical realm, of course, is otherworldly, with Endor a skyscraper-ish space-age creation. While the headmistress and her sidekick's nefarious plans aren't as well-laid-out as other magical villains' end games, the movie still conveys the intensity and urgency of Mary's mission to defeat Madam's evil intentions.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why stories about magic are so compelling. What are your favorite magical/fantasy tales?
Discuss the violence in the movie. There are a few close calls and injured characters: Does fantasy-based violence impact you in the same fashion as realistic violence? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
Were you familiar with the book on which the movie is based? Does the movie make you interested in reading the book?
Many have compared Mary's story to that of Harry Potter. Do you see similarities? How do you think Harry's story might have been different if J.K. Rowling had written her books with a female main character?
- In theaters: January 19, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: May 1, 2018
- Cast: Ruby Barnhill, Kate Winslet, Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Jim Broadbent
- Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Book Characters
- Character Strengths: Courage
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some action and thematic elements
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.