It's been decades since people started asking who'd be "the next Miyazaki". These questions gained force when Studio Ghibli shut down in 2014. The answer (theoretically) is Studio Ponoc, founded by Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura in 2015 and using lots of ex-Ghibli employees.
This is their first film. It's likeable, beautiful and full of charm. It looks just like a Ghilbi film, unsurprisingly. They've also done what Ghibli often did in choosing source material, with the film being an adaptation of The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart.
However it's also fairly undramatic, with the first hour being borderline soporific for me. I wouldn't even call it a story, but instead just stuff happening. Mary's staying with her great-aunt in a village. Mary's bored. Mary finds a flower. Mary gets taken to Endor College, which disappointingly doesn't contain Ewoks but instead is a magical university. (This might be a subtle Biblical reference, c.f. the Witch of Endor in Samuel 1.) Mary gets acclaimed as a magical prodigy, partly because she has red hair.
Mary might as well have been a tree stump. She's being dragged through a plot that she's not driving, or even really interacting with. There are apparently no baddies. (This will change later, but I'm talking about the first hour here.) Admittedly there's some character-based business at the beginning, when Mary's trying to help around the house and continually getting the brush-off because she makes a mess of things. This is enough to make us like Mary. She's the likeable heroine of a likeable film. It would be easy not to notice that she's a non-protagonist in a non-plot... but you might discover this the hard way by falling asleep.
The film perks up at the hour mark. There are baddies who need opposing (although they're hardly big league evil) and they've been doing wacky magic. Even there, though, I'm unimpressed by the writing. The Mary-Peter relationship could have been more strongly established, while I don't think the film's final message works. "We don't need magic!" "I don't need it any more!" Mary throws away the witch's flower. We've seen this kind of thing often enough that one waves it through on dramatic muscle memory... but why? I don't understand. It's magic! Mary can ride a broomstick! Why would anyone in the world say they didn't want magic? I don't think the film sets it up at all. It's like a child saying "I don't need the coolest thing ever!" or "Never give me any more chocolate!"
In fairness, Mary does have a character journey. She goes from boredom (with everything) and hostility (to Peter) to being happy, friendly and outgoing. There are visual echoes between the beginning and the end. However it's not clear what that has to do with renouncing magic.
That said, though, the film's lovely to look at. It's got a pseudo-steampunk aesthetic, weird blobby magical servants, cool magical tech and more like that. I loved the little scurrying beasties. There's a jumping broom, a Robin Hood mini-cat-man and a headmistress who can possess fountains.
This film is both charming and not very good. Apparently the original is a very short children's book, which explains a lot. (It also has an eagle that can lift a human, although I'm willing to handwave this with more magic.) The art and animation are indeed excellent, though, and I'm rather looking forward to Ponoc's anthology film, Modest Heroes. I nearly went to see it in the cinema.