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Mary And The Witch's Flower (Meari to majo no hana)

Based on County Durham-born writer Mary Stewart's 1971 children's novel The Little Broomstick, Mary And The Witch's Flower is a charming if slight animated adventure of self-discovery seen through the eyes of an inquisitive, flame-haired girl. Simplicity is the secret of director Hiromasa Yonebayashi's picture, which eschews narrative sophistication in favour of linear storytelling, broadly sketched characters and a familiar battle between youthful exuberance (good) and world-weary adult cynicism (bad). Visuals are a handsome amalgamation of hand-drawn and computer animation, conjuring a fantastical world of duelling wands, shape-shifting guardians and a stampede of liberated wild creatures. Yonebayashi previously directed the coming-of-age anime When Marnie Was There for Studio Ghibli. Here, he adopts a pedestrian pace to ensure young audiences remain under the spell of the diminutive heroine as she uncovers a clearly telegraphed family secret and marshals the courage to take charge of her destiny. An absence of on-screen jeopardy ensures children won't be cowering behind their hands in the film's latter stages but could test the ability of parents to maintain the illusion that they are fully engaged for 103 minutes. Mary Smith (voiced by Ruby Barnhill) stays with her great aunt Charlotte (Lynda Baron) in a country retreat overseen by housekeeper Miss Banks (Morwenna Banks) and gardener Zebedee (Rasmus Hardiker). The new arrival is desperate to make friends but she is the only child for miles apart from a local boy Peter (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), who travels by bicycle between estates, accompanied by two cats, Tib and Fib. The mischievous felines guide Mary to luminous blue flowers in the woods, which are identified by Zebedee as rare blooms called Fly-By-Night. According to outlandish legend, the glowing petals are coveted by witches for their magical powers. Mary crushes a Fly-By-Night bulb on a discarded broomstick and the girl is transported into the clouds to Endor College for witches, governed by formidable headmistress Madame Mumblechook (Kate Winslet). The principal assumes Mary is a new student and she leads a guided tour of the establishment including an introduction to revered chemistry teacher Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent). When Mumblechook discovers that Mary knows the location of the last remaining Fly-By-Night in the wild, the headmistress reveals her true colours. Mary And The Witch's Flower blossoms gradually, endearing the central character to us as she navigates a fantastical world normally hidden from prying eyes. Yonebayashi's film screens in two versions: the Japanese-language original and a family-friendly edition dubbed into English. This rendition is better suited to young children, who have neither the inclination nor the attention spans to engage with subtitles as well as the vibrant, colour-saturated visuals.