Movie Review: Ponyo
Academy Award-winning director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle) has another fanciful anime treat for “children of all ages”. His most recent animated feature, Ponyo, opened in U.S. theaters on Friday. Created by Studio Ghibli, and already having earned $165 million worldwide, the English version of this unique film is being presented by Walt Disney Studios and features a star-studded group of “voice actors” (a term I find hilarious for some reason). Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, and the incomparable Betty White all lend their voices to the adult characters in Ponyo. Noah Cyrus, of the Miley “I-like-to-take-provocative-photos” Cyrus clan played the title role of Ponyo. Frankie Jonas (yes he’s part of that Jonas family and is apparently known as the “Bonus Jonas” by Jonas Brothers fans) played Sosuke, the little boy who finds Ponyo and grows to love.
Ponyo is based on the famous Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Little Mermaid”. The basic plot centers on Ponyo, a little goldfish, meeting and falling in love with Sosuke and wanting to be human. Aside from that, there are a couple of elements that have been added by Miyazaki that only managed to add clutter to a pretty simple tale (and I hate puns so no I am not going to type in “tail” instead of “tale). First thing’s first, Ponyo’s dad, Fujimoto (played by Mr. Neeson) is a creepy underwater wizard, who I first thought was an extremely ugly, older woman. Ponyo’s mom, Gran Mamare (played by Ms. Blanchett) is a Sea Goddess. Miyazaki uses this family tradition of underwater wizardry to explain how Ponyo is able to transform herself first into a strange humanoid bird creature and then into a bonified little girl. There is also some impending danger of life as we know it being destroyed unless Ponyo restores balance to the natural world…I would have been just as happy if this part of the plot had been left out of the script, personally. It seemed to drag, causing the ending to feel anti-climatic.
Now regarding Ponyo’s transformation, she starts off as a goldfish, or at least that’s what everyone keeps calling her. But as my notes from the screening say she “don’t look like no goldfish I’ve ever seen”. The look of goldfish Ponyo is probably my biggest complaint, because if she’s supposed to look like a goldfish, make her a goldfish. Instead, she looks like a hand puppet wearing a red dress, and a creepy hand puppet at that. I was lucky enough to see Ponyo in a theater full of kids, and take note of what they enjoyed, what captured their imaginations. They LOVED it when Ponyo became a little girl. Suddenly all at once they seemed to become emotionally invested in her as a character, laughing at what she had to say and shouting out warnings to her.
What I liked most about Ponyo was the way in which the ocean literally comes alive and is a character in the film. The most breathtaking sequence of Ponyo is at the very beginning, when we are first introduced to the ocean and the wonderful creatures that inhabit it. The use of color and the sense of movement as a school of jellyfish swims across the screen was pure magic. I only wish the whole movie had contained animation with that delicate sense of wonder and brilliant use of color. Although not nearly as captivating as the opening scene, the depiction of Ponyo racing atop stormy waves, made of giant magical fish, was unlike anything I had seen before and immediately captured my imagination. It was moments like these that Miyazaki’s strength as a director and visual storyteller shone through. Despite a few problems with the look of certain characters and their behavior (I mean really, Lisa, Sosuke’s mom, was more than a little…. relaxed in her parenting. When she wasn’t driving like a MAD WOMEN she was leaving her 5 year old son alone during a flood to take care of the patients at the senior center) I still found Ponyo to be charming and enchanting and a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
Frothygirlz rating 7/10