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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

As you might expect, we meet a girl named Mary at the heart of this animated tale. She's a precocious youngster with too much hard-to-bridle energy, too much boring free time and, in her opinion, way too much red hair. In fact, even though Mary is really very sweet and always eager to help, the only thing people ultimately remember about her is the clumsy wreckage she leaves in her wake, and her explosion of frizzy and fiery hair.

Mary's been staying with her great-aunt Charlotte, a wonderful, loving woman, while her hard-working parents get settled into a new home. But they haven't had a chance to move anything but their daughter into town yet.

Before the school year starts, Mary is really, really, really bored. The only other kid she's even seen in the area is a boy named Peter, a boy who laughingly called her a red-haired monkey. So you know what Mary thinks of him.

While wandering in the nearby woods, though, Mary happens upon something that changes her situation. She finds a luminous blue flower that she soon learns is called a Fly by Night or a Witch's Flower. But it's more than just a pretty blossom with a creepy name: It does something to Mary.

Mary is certainly no witch, but the blue glowing goo from the plant gives her, well, powers. It enables her to fly on a broom, cast spells and even journey to a fantastic cloud-based academy for witches. It's a magical university nestled somewhere up in the clouds.

Soon after landing in that wondrous place, Mary meets Madam Mumblechook, the schoolmaster; and Doctor Dee, the gifted science-and-magic-blending professor. And they both think Mary is flat-out brilliant. They simply love her energy. They adore her eagerness and obvious magical skills. And they even think her red hair is amazing (not to mention a real magical asset).

It's all so overwhelming and very, very cool. And suddenly Mary starts thinking: She could get used to this.

Positive Elements

Mary may make mistakes from time to time, but she is a sincere, caring girl who desires to do the right thing. In fact, when Peter—who, as mentioned, Mary isn't sure she even likes—gets taken hostage, she quickly puts everything on the line to free him. She and Peter also go to great lengths to free a room full of animals that were being experimented upon.

And even though Mary doesn't think much of herself ("I'm absolute rubbish at everything," she says), those around the girl recognize her special attributes. Her great-aunt repeatedly voices her appreciation for her niece, despite some potential character flaws. "You're meant to look twice before you leap. She hardly looks at all," complains Mrs. Banks, her aunt's maid. "That's one of the things I love about her," Aunt Charlotte replies.

Elsewhere, an unnamed person steals the seeds for the Witch's Flower in order to keep the plant's powers away from those who would misuse it.

Spiritual Content

Obviously this is a movie about the use of witchcraft, and that spellcasting magic is used repeatedly. In the cases where spells are used, the caster simply touches the page of a spell book, and the desired action takes place in a wave of power. We never hear any verbal incantations.

The actual source of that magical power, as well as that of the Fly by Night flower, is never explained. All we know is that when that glowing flower is crushed, its goopy juice can imbue someone with a short-lived supply of magical ability.

The blooming flowers in the forest create a deep mist that envelops the wooded area and shoots out flashes of lightning-like energy. Doctor Dee uses similar energy to transform normal animals into semi-magical beasts. He experiments on Peter with the same procedure. Doctor Dee declares his belief that electricity is a form of magic and that chemistry is the same as potion-making. He also states, "Innocence has a catalytic effect on the absorption of magic," implying that unsullied children are the best conduits for his twisted experiments.

When Peter is enveloped in Doctor Dee's magical experiment, Madam Mumblechook fears that it is turning into another failure. But the Doctor looks at the winged figure that the boy is becoming and says, "This is no failure; it's rebirth."

When Mary gets to the magical school known as Endore University, she sees several demonstrations of witchcraft, including a class of students that disappears. She meets a fox-like character who talks. He notes the presence of a black cat that was swept up into the air with Mary when she was first empowered by the Witch's Flower, and he calls it her "familiar." (Since the Middle Ages, the occult term familiar has been used to describe spirit beings in animal forms who assist witches; that history, however, is not unpacked here beyond the use of the phrase itself.)

[Spoiler Warning] Eventually, Mary becomes convinced that magic is a corrupting power that's most often used in destructive ways. And she uses her own limited power to try and dismantle everything that Madam Mumblechook and Doctor Dee have done. When she's finished, she realizes that she still has a single bloom of the Fly by Night flower. She tosses it away saying, "I won't be needing this anymore."

Sexual Content

None.

Violent Content

There are some perilous moments here, usually occurring when magic goes haywire or is misused. For instance, there are a couple of times when Mary's magic runs out and she falls from a great height, only to be saved at the last moment.

Madam Mumblechook uses her magic to destroy some things. And an experiment goes awry, sucking a boy up into a smothering, swirling mass of magical energy. Mary holds a crystal ball-like object and mentally conjures a whirlwind that picks up students and furniture in a classroom and tosses everything around the room.

Crude or Profane Language

None.

Drug and Alcohol Content

None.

Other Negative Elements

Mary is so overwhelmed by the positive encouragement she receives upon initially arriving at Endore College that she gets a bit swell-headed and starts bragging. When Mary's magical abilities accidentally open a secret partition, she steals a small book of spells. In order to force Mary to do her will, Headmistress Mumblechook kidnaps one of Mary's friends.

Conclusion

Based on the British children's book The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, this Japanese import features English voiceover work from the likes of Ruby Barnhill, Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent. And this hand-drawn pic packs the same whimsical feel as we've often seen with other animated Japanese offerings: It's colorful and lavishly animated, while broadly making light of its witch-and-her-familiar subject matter.

Some will surely look at this ride-a-broom frolic and see it as something of a Harry Potter-lite cartoon that makes magic and witchcraft seem like fanciful fun for kids. But it should be noted that there's something more here, too: Mixed in with all the magicking in this animated flick there's a very firm message about rejecting all that spellcasting stuff.

In the course of her save-a-friend adventure, Mary comes to realize that there are a number of thorns associated with the flowery magic that she's been given. In fact, all the things she initially thinks are so sweet eventually turn sour and dangerous. And when she has an opportunity to continue with a bit more supernatural fun by movie's end, she's ready to toss all that aside and get back to an abracadabra-free life.

That doesn't make for any deep lessons, by any stretch. But it could make this kid's pic a discussion starter and more than just another fly-by-night enchantment.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Voices of Ruby Barnhill as Mary; Kate Winslet as Madam Mumblechook; Jim Broadbent as Doctor Dee; Lynda Baron as Great-Aunt Charlotte; Ewen Bremner as Flanagan; Louis Ashbourne Serkis as Peter

Director

Hiromasa Yonebayashi ( )

Distributor

GKids

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

January 19, 2018

On Video

May 1, 2018

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Bob Hoose

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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