Hayao Miyazaki. The man who has been called the Walt Disney of our time is back with another adventure of youth, fantasy, and jaw-dropping imagination. In an era that forgot the wonders of what a pen and pencil can do over a computer program, Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki have crafted a glorious reminder of not just a forgotten art, but a forgotten time in our lives when we were five years old and where there was a friendly monster waiting to soar you into your fondest childhood daydreams. The undisputed king of 2D animation is back to trade in his usual wings of flight for fins under the sea with his latest film Ponyo.
The movie tells the story of two very young children; Sosuke, (Frankie Jonas) a boy living on a cliff with his mother while his father sails a freighter around an ocean based town, and Ponyo, (Noah Lindsey Cyrus) a sort of twist of a goldfish with a human face and Goddess-like powers. She's the daughter both Gran Mamare (Cate Blanchett), a Goddess of the water, and of Fujimoto (Liam Neeson), a sort of Underwater Alchemist mixing potions to try and restore the ocean from, you guessed it, us foolish humans. When Ponyo manages to escape from Fujimoto's submarine and swims to shore, she grows a fondness for Sosuke and manages to get some human blood and turns human herself. Unfortunately being the daughter of a goddess and having a crush on Sosuke, the world's balance has been damaged to the point of Tsunamis and moon being out of balance. So it's up to the two to decide if our fishy friend should turn human for Sosuke or go back to the ocean to restore the world's balance.
Miyazaki has always been known for having a very high amount of imagination and it's certainly on display here. There really are dozens of images I took from the film such as Ponyo's school of fish, Fujimoto's submarine, the ocean goddess, and even the land itself. Any picture from the movie would make a wonderful screen-saver or portrait with the town, Ponyo and Sosuke, and a particularly spectacular scene involving the moon, the ocean, and the goddess. Trust me, it is certainly a sight to behold.
There were, however, a few distracting moments particularly with the audio. The score of the film draws a bit too much attention to itself. Some of the great scores are those that flow with the images giving a feeling that is invisible and helps create the mood but here, there were a few parts I felt it was competing with the images.
If there is also a common criticism I can give about Miyazaki's films, it's the Disney dubbing. Yes, I am an otaku and speaking as one along with a film geek, the subtitles are usually the better of the bunch. The criticism I have, however, is it tries to hold our hands to stuff us stupid americans wouldn't get. One example is when Fujimoto is gliding along a sea of dirt, we hear him give a comment about us filthy humans. All the trash and dirt around is more than enough to get your point across about it. It's Hayao Miyazaki, Disney; he knows how to get his visuals across.
I certainly didn't have a problem with the acting though, the timing for everyone is spot and and everyone is a strong fit for their roles. Liam Neeson's panicy authoritative tone was perfect for Fujimoto and I found young Noah Lindsey Cyrus as Ponyo increadibly charming in this version. I wouldn't mind giving Noah a young actor's award.
Who'da thought Ponyo could run like Sonic?
It's certainly no secret that Studo Ghibli is known for it's children-aimed entertainment but this movie is undoubtedly it's most child friendly movie they've made. It has the youngest heroes of the bunch, both 5 years old, the movie is rated G, and the song the end song is certainly something you'd hear in a Daycare center. In comparison to Miyazaki's other works while going through a fairy tale and having an enormous amount of depth and surreal imagination, this movie seems the least deep and much more fairy tale. It's much more simple having this world literally revolving around a princess and young boy's true love for one another.
It wasn't until I thought about it when I realize it's simple nature is by design for what the movie is trying to do. Ponyo is ultimately going to be compared to The Little Mermaid which I didn't realize until later is a pretty steryotypical flick. Why would Ariel give up being a princess for a human with blue eyes? I can imagine the adventure of it all, but it's just saying how this woman loses her independence for a dude. How this film compares to Ponyo is, well, Arial's a young woman while Ponyo's learning her first words. The movie's best quality is it's childish charm of seeing two five year olds playing marriage. It's the same warm feeling you would get if you saw your son give a flower to a girl in kindergarden. The simple design of the movie is a kind of celebration of childhood innocence and friendship through a wondrous fantasy inspired by sea-bearing myth.
To give you, faithful readers a final word, this is probably the least deep story of the Studio Ghibli library (kind of ironic being under the sea) but it's truly another that shines like a pearl; and no matter how old you are entering this movie, you leave with the joy of a five year old.