Review / ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ (PG) *** and a half

WHILE her family is away, Mary is living in great-aunt Charlotte’s country house, where the gardener has shown her the Fly-By-Night currently bearing its blue, once-in-seven-year blossom. Young Peter brings the mail. He and Mary enjoy each other’s companionship. It alleviates the loneliness.

The leprechaun Flanagan appears from nowhere and suggests that Mary and two cats, who have taken a liking to her, should ride a late-model broomstick to the college of magic at Endor that she may find interesting.

Indeed, so she does. She accepts the college’s rule that the punishment for failure to graduate is transformation. College principal Mrs Mumblechook (voiced by Kate Winslet) enrols her and introduces her to Dr Dee (Jim Broadbent), a mad scientist of the sort so beloved by filmmakers in so many genres.

Mumblechook doesn’t want to wait another seven years to get a bloom from Charlotte’s Fly-By-Night. The flower has powers that can transform the world.

Endor is not the nice place that its appearance suggests. Mary, Peter and one of the cats discover a cavern filled with cages containing fantastic creatures hitherto unknown to science, that Dr Dee has transformed from animals of farm and field. And Mumblechook particularly wants Peter to undergo transformation. Oh, horrid prospect!

By this point, filmmaker Hiromasa Yonebayashi has captured viewers’ attention to his translation of Mary Stewart’s 1971 children’s book “The Little Broomstick” into a beautiful animated fantasy. The result is full of excitements. The images are lovely. While the narrative is sufficiently adult to engage grown-ups, it is no more scary than many classic fairytales.

I saw “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” with dubbed dialogue at the Canberra cinema which is also showing the subtitled version. This strikes me as sending a subtle advice to parents – neither version is appropriate for kids who can’t yet read fluently.

At Dendy, Palace Electric, Capitol 6, Hoyts Belconnen

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