Seeing as how Johnny’s post on Ponyo has been one of our highest-viewed articles on a daily basis, I felt as though I would be truly missing something special if I didn’t see this movie. Today I finally made my way to the discount theater for one last chance to see Ponyo, the story of a fish-girl who falls in love with a young human boy. Unfortunately, due to an incredibly long line at the concessions stand from which I was forced to purchase my ticket, I missed the first few minutes. I will assume they were equally as good as the remainder of the movie.
Ponyo (pronounced Pahn-yo, not Pone-yo or Pwn-yo) is a Princess goldfish who, while exploring the shallow waters close to a human town, is caught up in a trawler’s net scraping the bottom of the ocean floor. Escaping a wave of refuse, but trapped in a jar, she is rescued by 5-year old Sosuke, who cuts his finger when he shatters her glass prison. Inexplicably, she laps at the blood that has welled up from the small wound, activating her magical powers. Don’t ask; it ruins the magic.
Sosuke places Ponyo in a bucket of water, feeds her, and takes her to his school and to the senior center where his mother works. After a short time, Ponyo comes to love Sosuke (and voices her love out loud!) only moments before her father, a wizard of the waves, a druid of the deep, a sorcerer of the sea, etc, “rescues” his daughter and takes her back to his underwater castle. Ponyo is determined to return to the surface world and find Sosuke, and in doing so, accidentally sets in motion an ecological calamity that places Sosuke’s town almost completely underwater and threatens to destroy the world.
(No more spoilers)
Enough story synopsis. It sounds bizarre, right? Well, it is, a little. But don’t let that stop you from seeing the movie. Ponyo is pure, fantastic imagination brought to life in beautifully hand-drawn animation. There is not a single digitally-rendered frame anywhere on the movie reel, and I “reelly” appreciated it. According to my sources at Wikipedia, director Miyazaki “preferred to draw the sea and waves himself,” giving us an idea of the dedication and passion he had for this film. It is a lovingly crafted film, and it shows. In one particular scene in which Ponyo is literally running across the backs of giant fish/waves, the sense of dynamic motion and unrestrained happiness is unmatched by almost anything I can remember seeing in cinema. It made me feel a sense of unrestrained, joyous freedom, and a longing for something pure.
The movie is not perfect, though. I found myself a little distracted (as I often do) by the English language voiceover artists, who include Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, and Betty White. It’s hard to get into the style of Japanese animation when I am constantly thinking of Qui-Gon Jinn (Star Wars), Liz Lemon (30 Rock), and Rose from Golden Girls. Cate Blanchett lends her voice as Ponyo’s mother, the Goddess of Mercy, and sounds much like she did as Galadriel in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. While the dubbing isn’t bad, when it comes to foreign films, I always prefer the original language with subtitles. Without the recognition of the English voice actors, I am able to better focus on the movie’s story and dialogue without any distractions. The music was forgettable, too, and I am unlikely to be happily haunted by it as I was by Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky.
Still, I loved this movie. It avoided cliché scenarios and manufactured drama, and while a little aimless at times, never felt slow. Ponyo is a simple movie, overflowing with innocence and magic, suitable for all ages, and made to appeal especially to young children. I wish I could see it with the eyes of a child. The grownup in me gives it 4 out of 5 Babbles, and the child in me gives it THIS MANY!!!