What to read, watch, listen to, and play this weekend

“While Johnson treads much of the same territory here as in his 1992 cult classic [Jesus’ Son]—addiction, crime, obsession, psychedelic transcendence—his final book is overall more concerned with what follows such madness. If Jesus’ Son proclaims, ‘Holy shit, after all the drugs and alcohol and violence, I can’t…

Read more…

“While Johnson treads much of the same territory here as in his 1992 cult classic [Jesus’ Son]—addiction, crime, obsession, psychedelic transcendence—his final book is overall more concerned with what follows such madness. If Jesus’ Son proclaims, ‘Holy shit, after all the drugs and alcohol and violence, I can’t…

Read more...

Studio Ghibli alums keep the company’s whimsical spirit alive with Mary And The Witch’s Flower

Anime aficionados mourned when Studio Ghibli closed up shop a few years ago, following the retirement of founder/legend Hayao Miyazaki. As it turned out, Miyazaki left the game for about as long as Steven Soderbergh did; his next feature is already in production (though probably at least two years away from release;…

Read more…

Anime aficionados mourned when Studio Ghibli closed up shop a few years ago, following the retirement of founder/legend Hayao Miyazaki. As it turned out, Miyazaki left the game for about as long as Steven Soderbergh did; his next feature is already in production (though probably at least two years away from release;…

Read more...

Neeson is the reason for the season: 19 movies coming this January

So many movies, so little time. Every week brings a new crop of them, opening in multiplexes and arthouse theaters across the nation, and arriving in increasingly high volumes on streaming platforms like Netflix. How’s a voracious moviegoer to keep up? That’s where The A.V. Club comes in. The first week of every

Read more…

So many movies, so little time. Every week brings a new crop of them, opening in multiplexes and arthouse theaters across the nation, and arriving in increasingly high volumes on streaming platforms like Netflix. How’s a voracious moviegoer to keep up? That’s where The A.V. Club comes in. The first week of every

Read more...

‘Mary And the Witch’s Flower’ Trailer: Gkids Toon Features Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent & ‘The BFG’s Ruby Barnhill

Gkids has amassed nine Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature since 2009 including one for My Life as a Zucchini last year and two in 2016 — but it has yet to take home the hardware. Now comes the first English-language trailer for its latest pic, featuring the voices of Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent and The BFG star Ruby Barnhill.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower hails from Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the Oscar-nominated animator behind Studio Ghibli’s Spirited AwayHowl’s Movin…

Gkids has amassed nine Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature since 2009 including one for My Life as a Zucchini last year and two in 2016 — but it has yet to take home the hardware. Now comes the first English-language trailer for its latest pic, featuring the voices of Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent and The BFG star Ruby Barnhill. Mary and the Witch’s Flower hails from Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the Oscar-nominated animator behind Studio Ghibli’s Spirited AwayHowl's Movin…

How ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ Builds on Studio Ghibli DNA

After “The Breadwinner,” the debut animated feature from Studio Ponoc offers GKids’ best prospect for a second Oscar nomination.

Animation

With its debut feature, “Mary and the Witch’s Flower,” Studio Ponoc in Japan offered a new kind of anime fantasy drawn from the DNA of Studio Ghibli. And for founder and former Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura (“The Tale of The Princess Kaguya,” “When Marnie Was There”) and director Hiromasa Yonebayashi (“The Secret World of Arrietty, “When Marnie Was There”), the experience of making it was a new adventure.

“‘When Marnie Was There’ was a very quiet film about a little girl set in a small village without much action,” said Nishimura. “I wanted a story with a very active, energetic girl with lots of emotion and dynamic action.” And in speaking of his director, who drew dynamic animation for Hayao Miyazaki, “I saw that as a very large weapon to be able to feature in a new film.”

Starting From Scratch

Based on Mary Stewart’s novel, “The Little Broomstick,” the film concerns a bored little English girl who’s transformed into a witch with the discovery of a magical flower. Her destiny, it turns out, is to free caged, tormented animals that are part of a misguided experiment at a mysterious wizarding school. However, after Mary loses her bewitching powers, she’s forced to reinvent herself.

On their own and without the resources and budget of Ghibli films, Nishimura and Yonebayashi were forced to reinvent themselves as well. Still, with a talented group of 450 artists (many from Ghibli), hand-drawn ingenuity, and the use of open source animation software for fantasy sequences, they achieved a visually compelling movie that honors the Ghibli tradition.

“Mary and the Witch’s Flower”

“The original story had a very careful and reverent depiction of nature,” said Yonebayashi. “And so I wanted to make sure I show that. And for the fantasy sequences, it was an imaginary world. But in order to get those aspects in, even with our low budget, we went to Britain to look at actual natural scenes there to reference. I wanted to have a real contrast between the real world of the Red Manor and our college, which had its own [mechanical] garden but has all these strange creatures in there as well.”

Additionally, a great deal of effort went into the design and animation of 30 creatures that are transformed into monsters. But there were important aesthetic decisions to consider beyond the cool factor. “It was difficult to figure out how much to keep them animal-like and how much to make them creature,” Yonebayashi said. “If they became too creature-like in their transformed state, then the audience might start sympathizing with them. And so we had to keep that line so that when they transformed back into their animal reality, we welcomed them.”

Change and Transformation

However, the director’s favorite character was the broomstick. “At first it’s sort of an untamed horse that does whatever it wants,” he said. “And then gradually it becomes more of a partner for Mary to be able to work with her. So that change and transformation was fun.”

Meanwhile, it required a large number of background drawings to get the motion of Mary’s flying to look believable (assisted by some digital clouds). But the hardest animation of all was a crowd scene with several hundred animals. “For just a few seconds of film, the animators took two months to draw those scenes,” said Yonebayashi.

“Mary and the Witch’s Flower”

For the filmmakers, though, the movie offers a hopeful message of change that’s intended to be empowering for kids and adults alike. And as they embark on a series of shorts before producing their second feature, it’s a promising start for Studio Ponoc.

GKids and Fathom Events will premiere “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” theatrically on January 18 in both its Japanese-language version and English dub (starring Ruby Barnhill, Kate Winslet, and Jim Broadbent). This will be followed by a wider North American release starting January 19.

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‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ Film Review: Studio Ghibli Vets Make Magic

A lovingly crafted fantasy on an epic scale, “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” is a film about transformation made by filmmakers in transition.

Directed by Studio Ghibli veteran Hiromasa Yonebayashi (2015 Oscar nominee for Ghibli’s “When Marnie Was There”), this action-packed tale of a young witch coming into her power is the first feature from Studio Ponoc, the aspiring animation powerhouse headed by longtime Ghibli lead producer Yoshiaki Nishimura (Oscar nominee in 2014 for producing Ghibli’s “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”).

Yonebayashi and Nishimura have based their film on Mary Stewart’s 1971 YA novel “The Little Broomstick,” a storybook the six-year-old J. K. Rowling must have found in her Christmas stocking. In the movie version, awkward but plucky schoolgirl Mary (voice of Ruby Barnhill in the GKIDS English language dub) encounters an old broom and an enchanted flower deep in a British forest. Red-haired Mary plucks the flower and is given awesome but temporary powers when its nectar spills on her hands.

Also Read: Studio Ghibli to Open ‘My Neighbor Totoro’-Inspired Theme Park in Japan

Mary is in no way prepared to be a spellcaster, first class, as becomes apparent when her little broom comes to life and whisks her away to the frothily surreal campus of a secret magic academy. There the evil headmistress Madame Mumblechook (Kate Winslet, clearly having a ball) spots Mary using her temporary powers and mistakes her for a witching prodigy.

When Mumblechook realizes Mary is a fake, she plots with her mad scientist sidekick Doctor Dee (a deliciously fatuous Jim Broadbent) to harness Mary’s flower power for evil and reshape the world. Or something like that. It’s never entirely clear what Mumblechook and Dee are up to, though it seems to involve transforming the human race into magical butterfly people. Whatever it is, it’s bad, and brave Little Mary and her best pal Peter are the only ones who can stop them, in a war of magic vs. goodness that finds just the right balance between big action set-pieces and “Alice in Wonderland” whimsy.

Also Read: DVDs are Dying, But Not for Anime Distributor Funimation

By lavishing his considerable design skills on a world equal parts Hogworts and steampunk sci-fi, Yonebayashi recalls the great French animatior Paul Grimault’s masterpiece “Le Roi et L’Oiseau,” which also recast fairytale tropes for the machine age. Yonebayashi’s visual imagination seems limitless. Mumblechook’s magic academy brims with so many strange creatures and ectoplasmic oddities, it’s a strain trying to catch them all. The tentacled and legless Doctor Dee’s broken cybernetic form conveys his entire backstory as a reckless obsessive whose failed experiments cost him spectacularly in the past.

Ponoc (the name is Croatian for “New Day” or “Zero Hour”) was founded after Studio Ghibli dissolved its production department in 2014, and many of its staff are Ghibli veterans. The Ghibli comparisons are inevitable, and they may even be welcome; producer Nishimura has repeatedly stated his goal as preserving Ghibli’s role in creating first-rate family fare.

But despite its strong female protagonist and a “concerned” subplot about animal experimentation, “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” owes more to MGM’s escapist classic “The Wizard of Oz” than it does to “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” Though Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki enjoyed wild success, he’s still a fundamentally personal filmmaker, who populates his fantastic worlds with flawed heroes and a deep skein of pessimism about human motivations untypical in mainstream animated fare.

Also Read: Ryan Reynolds to Play ‘Detective Pikachu’ – Read the Best Social Media Reactions

It diminishes “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” not at all to call it the work of a more straightforward fantasist. Yonebayashi’s unwavering faith in the clear values and direct narrative structures of a good storybook energize his rousing entertainment with sweep and drive.

Ponoc and Yonebayashi have managed the difficult task of demonstrating an older tradition’s durability while making a film that speaks for itself. Though Miyazaki has recently announced he will come out of retirement to make yet another “final film,” the Ghibli torch seems to be passing. If “Mary” is an indication, Ponoc looks to be just the company who will use it to make a fire of its own.



Related stories from TheWrap:

How Japan’s ‘In This Corner of the World’ Captures 1940s Hiroshima Before the A-Bomb

‘Princess Mononoke’ Turns 20: 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About The Animated Classic (Photos)

‘Your Name’ Director Makoto Shinkai on Updating the Body-Swap Movie

How a Little Company Called GKIDS Keeps Crashing the Oscar Animation Category

A lovingly crafted fantasy on an epic scale, “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” is a film about transformation made by filmmakers in transition.

Directed by Studio Ghibli veteran Hiromasa Yonebayashi (2015 Oscar nominee for Ghibli’s “When Marnie Was There”), this action-packed tale of a young witch coming into her power is the first feature from Studio Ponoc, the aspiring animation powerhouse headed by longtime Ghibli lead producer Yoshiaki Nishimura (Oscar nominee in 2014 for producing Ghibli’s “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”).

Yonebayashi and Nishimura have based their film on Mary Stewart’s 1971 YA novel “The Little Broomstick,” a storybook the six-year-old J. K. Rowling must have found in her Christmas stocking. In the movie version, awkward but plucky schoolgirl Mary (voice of Ruby Barnhill in the GKIDS English language dub) encounters an old broom and an enchanted flower deep in a British forest. Red-haired Mary plucks the flower and is given awesome but temporary powers when its nectar spills on her hands.

Mary is in no way prepared to be a spellcaster, first class, as becomes apparent when her little broom comes to life and whisks her away to the frothily surreal campus of a secret magic academy. There the evil headmistress Madame Mumblechook (Kate Winslet, clearly having a ball) spots Mary using her temporary powers and mistakes her for a witching prodigy.

When Mumblechook realizes Mary is a fake, she plots with her mad scientist sidekick Doctor Dee (a deliciously fatuous Jim Broadbent) to harness Mary’s flower power for evil and reshape the world. Or something like that. It’s never entirely clear what Mumblechook and Dee are up to, though it seems to involve transforming the human race into magical butterfly people. Whatever it is, it’s bad, and brave Little Mary and her best pal Peter are the only ones who can stop them, in a war of magic vs. goodness that finds just the right balance between big action set-pieces and “Alice in Wonderland” whimsy.

By lavishing his considerable design skills on a world equal parts Hogworts and steampunk sci-fi, Yonebayashi recalls the great French animatior Paul Grimault’s masterpiece “Le Roi et L’Oiseau,” which also recast fairytale tropes for the machine age. Yonebayashi’s visual imagination seems limitless. Mumblechook’s magic academy brims with so many strange creatures and ectoplasmic oddities, it’s a strain trying to catch them all. The tentacled and legless Doctor Dee’s broken cybernetic form conveys his entire backstory as a reckless obsessive whose failed experiments cost him spectacularly in the past.

Ponoc (the name is Croatian for “New Day” or “Zero Hour”) was founded after Studio Ghibli dissolved its production department in 2014, and many of its staff are Ghibli veterans. The Ghibli comparisons are inevitable, and they may even be welcome; producer Nishimura has repeatedly stated his goal as preserving Ghibli’s role in creating first-rate family fare.

But despite its strong female protagonist and a “concerned” subplot about animal experimentation, “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” owes more to MGM’s escapist classic “The Wizard of Oz” than it does to “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” Though Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki enjoyed wild success, he’s still a fundamentally personal filmmaker, who populates his fantastic worlds with flawed heroes and a deep skein of pessimism about human motivations untypical in mainstream animated fare.

It diminishes “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” not at all to call it the work of a more straightforward fantasist. Yonebayashi’s unwavering faith in the clear values and direct narrative structures of a good storybook energize his rousing entertainment with sweep and drive.

Ponoc and Yonebayashi have managed the difficult task of demonstrating an older tradition’s durability while making a film that speaks for itself. Though Miyazaki has recently announced he will come out of retirement to make yet another “final film,” the Ghibli torch seems to be passing. If “Mary” is an indication, Ponoc looks to be just the company who will use it to make a fire of its own.

Related stories from TheWrap:

How Japan's 'In This Corner of the World' Captures 1940s Hiroshima Before the A-Bomb

'Princess Mononoke' Turns 20: 10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The Animated Classic (Photos)

'Your Name' Director Makoto Shinkai on Updating the Body-Swap Movie

How a Little Company Called GKIDS Keeps Crashing the Oscar Animation Category

‘Mary And The Witch’s Flower’ Director On Exploring World Of Magic Through The Eyes Of A Young Girl

Coming up in the animation ranks at Studio Ghibli as an in-between and key animator before making his directorial debut with The Secret World of Arrietty, and earning his first Oscar nomination for 2014’s When Marnie Was There, Japanese director Hiromasa Yonebayashi struck out on his own this year with Mary and the Witch’s Flower.
Based on The Little Broomstick by English novelist Mary Stewart, this dynamic first feature from Yoshiaki Nishimura’s Studio Ponoc tells the…

Coming up in the animation ranks at Studio Ghibli as an in-between and key animator before making his directorial debut with The Secret World of Arrietty, and earning his first Oscar nomination for 2014’s When Marnie Was There, Japanese director Hiromasa Yonebayashi struck out on his own this year with Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Based on The Little Broomstick by English novelist Mary Stewart, this dynamic first feature from Yoshiaki Nishimura’s Studio Ponoc tells the…