Ponyo

Posted on March 2, 2010 at 8:00 am

Hayao Miyazaki has produced another trippy fantasia, this time a fish out of water story along the lines of “The Little Mermaid.” A little girl goldfish with magical powers loves a little boy and turns herself into a human, by ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny-mode stopping at a few evolutionary species along the way and sometimes reverting back to chicken feet in times of stress.

The boy is Sosuke (Frankie Jonas) and he dubs the fish Ponyo (Noah Lindsey Cyrus). In a bit of stunt casting, both main character voice talents are the younger siblings of Disney mega-pop stars. Ponyo’s father (voice of Liam Neeson), angry over the human’s mistreatment of the oceans and concerned that her leaving may upset the balance of the world, wants her back in her original fishy form. A storm rises and creates enormous flooding. While Sosuke’s mother Lisa (Tina Fey) is taking care of the wheelchair-bound elderly women at the nursing home (voices include Betty White and Cloris Leachman), Ponyo uses her magic to enlarge Sosuke’s toy boat and they go out onto the water.

Stunning bursts of imagination and sensational, almost psychedelic images make the film a garden of unearthly delights. The undersea settings, including the flooded village, are filled with intricate detail and grand concepts, like waves that turn into enormous leaping fish. Ponyo uses her new feet to race across the tops of the waves in a moment of pure exhilaration. The images are visually rich and engrossing and the tenderness between the two children is affecting. But they are also at times disconcertingly grotesque and as in past films Miyazaki cannot make visual splendor compensate for moments in the storyline that are random and inconsistent.

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7 Replies to “Ponyo”

  1. Nell,
    Your recommendations are excellent – as always – but curious as well. Neither of them is a PIXAR film. John Lasseter of PIXAR is the one who has compelled (forced?) Disney to distribute Ghibli films – to his credit. I am a great fan of Studio Ghibli so I appreciate Lasseter’s efforts. Proco Rosso and Castle in the Sky are my favorites. But I am curious about Lasseter’s desire – need – for people to see Ghibli films. It seems from a ComicCon event that Miyazaki does not share Lasseter’s admiration. But high marks to Disney for sticking with their agreement.

  2. Thanks, jestrfyl! I thought I’d recommend films that were similar to this one in style and content, and that possibly audiences have not seen. Like you, I am interested that Lasseter, the pioneer of computer animation, remains so devoted to traditional hand-drawn animation, at least from Ghibli.

  3. Lasseter has been a fan of Miyazaki’s for years. He’s often said that when the Pixar team would get stuck, they’d take a break and watch a Miyazaki film in their screening room.
    Disney actually closed and disbanded their hand-drawn animation department before the Pixar aquisition, stating that they would never make another hand-drawn feature film in favor of CGI. After Lasseter was made Disney’s Chief Creative Officer, he re-opened their hand-drawn department, and guided them back towards the musical features Disney was built on. When “The Princess and the Frog” premieres, we’ll see how successful he was.

  4. We saw this last night with my 8 and 6 year old. I knew nothing about it going in (all I knew was that I couldn’t handle our other option, Ice Age 3, last night). I found this movie to be a refreshing change from typical Disney/Pixar in your face laughs, double entendre for the adults audience, self referential approach. (That make it sound like I hate Disney/Pixar and I don’t – not at all. Nemo is still one of my favorite films).
    Clearly the pacing and story telling were very different. The Japanese culture components were very interesting and although I felt some of the fairy tale aspects were not very clear, I put some of that off to cultural differences. I actually like how some of the random things seemed to flush out the story a little more. Not every single thing was designed to move the story forward; some were intended to just help the audience experience the moment (for example when Sosuke steps on something while pushing the boat in the water and we see all the sea creatures near his feet).
    Nell, I’m curious which scene, or element, you found to be grotesque?
    For the record, my kids loved this film and are already asking if we can buy it when it comes out on DVD.

  5. >Not every single thing was designed to move the story forward; some were intended to just help the audience experience the moment (for example when Sosuke steps on something while pushing the boat in the water and we see all the sea creatures near his feet).
    Beautifully put. And a good reminder to me not to be so relentlessly linear, which is certainly my tendency. The gentleness of “Ponyo” is refreshing, isn’t it? You and your family will also enjoy “My Neighbor Totoro,” too, so I hope you watch that while you are waiting for “Ponyo” to come out on DVD.
    I found some of the faces to be grotesquely exaggerated, especially Fujimoto, Noriko, and Toki. And some of the behavior and interactions were disturbing — the mother’s impulsivity and tantrum, the randomness of some of the dialog. But it is a beautiful and dreamily imaginative film with extraordinary richness of detail and I am delighted with your family’s response to it.

  6. I saw this anime before showing it to my daughter and I have seen nothing capable to frighten little kids.
    In my opinion Woody Woodpecker,Tom&Jerry and related videos are more violent and frithening than Ponyo.

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