As Ghibli prepares for its (alleged) final release, the torch has been passed to the recently formed Studio Ponoc. Created in 2015 as Miyazaki and Takahata announced their retirement and the eventual shuddering of their legendary animation studio, Ponoc is made up of many ex-Ghibli employees who have sought to carry on the legacy of their parent studio.
With their debut picture, Ponoc has proven that the spirit of Ghibli is mostly alive and well, realizing much of the magical charm and heartfelt optimism that its predecessor studio was famous for. The animation and visual design are gorgeously realized, keying in on that very particular Ghibli character design which produces fantastical and singular images. From Endor College, which evokes a sense of idiosyncratic charm and vague threat, to the lived in English village, Ponoc delivers a truly beautiful feat of animation. Additionally, the dub work here is quite fantastic, with Ruby Barnhill’s (BFG) performance as Mary stealing the show.
However, the emulation of Ghibli feels less complete when it comes to the narrative. It’s not that there aren’t a plethora of similarities to be found; Mary is a charming protagonist, and there are attempts a morally ambiguous villain. The overriding issue here is that the dramatic content just isn’t particularly affecting. When it hurls into the last act, and the fate of a secondary character is on the line, it simply doesn’t feel as though there is a great deal of suspense, because the character in peril hasn’t been given enough screen time. The overriding theme of Mary attempting to achieve self-acceptance similarly doesn’t feel as fleshed out as it could.
While the final act doesn’t exactly work, there are enough endearing bit characters and fun little interactions to transition between its visually impressive set pieces. In a world where 2D animation is quickly dissapearing from the silver screen, it turns out that’s enough.
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars