This otherworldly and exhilarating film opens with a stunning escape sequence. A young girl with flaming red hair seizes a small, drawstring purse and plunges through the night clouds on her broomstick, chased by watery shape-shifting creatures. As she shakes off her pursuers and tumbles to earth, the bag opens, scattering glowing purple seeds that immediately propagate a mature forest. So far, so mysterious - and thrilling.
By contrast, the next scene is the epitome of the quotidian, opening in peaceful, green English countryside towards the end of the summer holidays. Another young, red-headed girl, this time the eponymous Mary, voiced by Ruby Barnhill, is killing time at her great-aunt’s house, waiting for school to begin. Lonely, bored, curious and heedless, Mary is primed for any diversion that might come her way, so it doesn’t take much for a small black cat to entice her to the misty forest where this riveting Harry Potter-esque adventure begins.
Fast-paced and gripping, with vertiginous broomstick flight sequences and fantastical realms beyond our world, this adaptation of Mary Stewart’s Little Broomstick is beautifully hand-drawn, combining almost watercolour-like impressions of misty English countryside with Japanese anime characteristics.
The rapidly unfolding adventure, which pitches its young protagonists, Mary and Peter, against evil, would-be world dominating teachers (voiced by Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent) will keep the younger members of your family on the very edge of their seats. A six-year-old of my acquaintance, well versed in recent children’s films, pronounced it the most incredible film she’d ever seen.
Whether you’re aware or not of the illustrious Studio Ghibli ancestry of the newly-minted Studio Ponic will matter not a jot to the intended young viewers, but the delicate beauty of the drawing and music may come as a welcome surprise to blockbuster-weary adults funding the tickets and popcorn.
If, however, you are a fan of the influential and revered Studio Ghibli, creators of the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, among many others, you will find much of its magic has found a new home at Studio Ponoc, with many former Ghibli staff bringing the teachings of the legendary studio to bear on this winning animated tale.
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