By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, January 19, and at the Palladio 16 Cinemas in Folsom and at the AMC Van Ness in San Francisco.
Studio Ghibli veteran Hiromasa Yonebayashi adapts Mary Stewart’s 1971 children’s novel The Little Broomstick into this charming, entertaining, just-dark-enough GKIDS import. The story sutures together pieces from Spirited Away and the Harry Potter series: Mary, a bored but courageous orphan with wild red hair, bemoans her adventure-less life in the country, only to get unexpectedly whisked away to a school of magic in the sky. Acquiring short-term “powers” from a magic flower she finds in the woods, Mary bluffs her way through the school gates, but she is forced to become a hero when her lies put other people in danger. Mary and the Witch’s Flower doesn’t possess the substance and seamlessness of When Marnie Was There, Yonebayashi’s previous effort – the in-scene pacing sometimes feels weirdly arrhythmic, and the film rarely penetrates past the plot clutter into the characters’ souls. However, this is still a compulsively watchable film with a strong female hero and a deluge of gorgeous images.