Ponyo

崖の上のポニョ Gake no Ue no Ponyo (English: Ponyo)/ dir. Hayao Miyazaki/ 2008 Japan/ 2009 US

It takes real skill to fill the screen with emotion and high drama without having an actual antagonist. It also takes real skill to transport the audience into a world based on real-life, but at the same time have so much magic and awe-inspiring moments that seem so natural that you can’t help but be transfixed to the screen. This is Ponyo, Miyazaki’s latest film loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid about a young goldfish that longs to be a little girl. Unlike other quality animated movies this year, that attempt to cater to the younger audience AND at the same time add in some flair here and there for the adults in the audience, Miyazaki does NONE of that. He knows his target audience is going to be 10 years and younger, but he does something equally impressive. Instead of trying to preen some adult themes into this film, he does the almost inconceivable task of transporting the whole audience back into their childhood.

And for me it worked…

The Review

Ponyo tells the tale of Ponyo (obviously), a fish meets a 5-year old boy name Sosuke, and by meeting him longs to get out of the ocean and become a little girl. She gets her wish, but the balance is messed up and chaos ensues. Straight forward fairy tale stuff complete with a wizard father, a goddess mother, and lots of magical happenings. However, unlike standard Disney-fare (and as stated before though) there was really no antagonist in the whole movie. The “evil” father, was just trying to look after his kid and protect the ocean, no harm there. The dramatic tension was created not by an “evil” force, but by pure emotion. The dialogue was not super cheesed up all the time (there were parts though) and the relationship between Sosuke and his mother Lisa (BTW, Tina Fey did an outstanding voice acting job for the English dub) felt genuine and real. Of course, there are always minor things to nitpick at, I mean, if you see a mysteriously little girl in amidst a huge typhoon that your son claims to be his old goldfish, I don’t think I would necessarily take her in without question.  

The animation, which was in glorious old school 2-D, complete with water color backgrounds, was beautiful. Which is always the case for a Miyazaki film. I like the muted pastels and almost crayon look that the town had. And that huge storm was one of the better storm sequences I have seen in an animated flick.

The real magic came in how all these elements came together. Add up the drama, the look, the style, the animation, and slight twist on a common fairy tale, and I was captivated to the screen. I felt like I was 8 years old again. Now some folks weren’t too big on this film and I understand why. Because the last couple of Miyazaki’s movies, Howl’s Moving Castle, Sprited Away, Princess Mononoke, were epic and grand in scale and had more of a concrete political context, some folks were expecting a movie on that same scale. Ponyo is NOT a great epic.  There is no overlying political message, save a for a subtle environmental one.This was a movie for kids. This was a movie for adults who wanted to feel like kids again, and you had to be prepared to go back into that state of mind.

Thanks for bringing me back…

PS: This last song during the credits of the English Dub almost ruined the movie for me. Thank goodness it was at the end…

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