Better than any birthday party magician or sideshow illusionist, Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films make you believe. Filled with the fantastic, his features presented mythological figures and situations in such a matter-of-fact way that I always find myself completely wrapped up in the stories and what’s on screen. The magnificent Ponyo is no exception. Beautiful and thoughtful, Miyazaki once again shows he’s a master of taking the magical and making it endearing.
Based on the original Hans Christian Andersen story of ‘The Little Mermaid,’ Ponyo tells the story of a goldfish named Ponyo who is saved by a young boy named Sosuke who lives in a small coastal town. The two immediately share a kindred connection, which leads to Ponyo wishing to become human. She has the ability to do it on her own for some time and when she does, Ponyo throws the entire area’s environment out of whack. Behind the guise of a budding friendship is an environmental threat that could destroy the earth.
It’s a delight to watch the friendship and bond between Sosuke and Ponyo. Although children, the relationship they form seems more like an old-fashioned romance. It’s completely innocent in every way. It’s pure. And that’s what I liked seeing. The story is told through the point of view of the two children. Everything seems a little bit bigger than it would to a human. The perspective is a little closer to the ground. This shows their wonder, particularly Sosuke who experiences all sorts of wonderful sea creatures for the first time.
With her regular screaming and babbling, Ponyo could have easily become an inadvertently annoying character. Thankfully, this doesn’t come to pass. She maintains an adorable sense of infantile amazement while still offering something more than blabbering. The fact that she’s adorable doesn’t hurt either.
Ponyo is filled with magic and wonderment from start to finish. As I’ve experienced with Miyazaki’s other films, he doesn’t go into great detail as to what the magical elements are but rather presents them for what they are and makes the viewer a believer. This is an excellent example where less is more. For example, Ponyo and her little siblings are described in the film as goldfish. They’re certainly not like the goldfish I see swimming around at the pet store and floating atop the fish bowl in my childhood bedroom. Rather, they look like little people. The film simply tells us that they’re goldfish and you need to believe it. It’s not beaten home over and over again. It’s simply fantastical and that’s just the way it is.
Although Miyazaki and his work are respected the world over, it’s still somewhat sad to see that his films are relegated to specialty cinema in the West. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that Disney gets behind his films and releases them, but Miyazaki has proven over and over again that his films are better than most every other animated commercial release that gets a major studio push. Although the style of Ponyo and his other films may not represent the ‘Disney look,’ they are nonetheless important films that create genuine magic for both children and adults.
Ponyo Blu-ray Review
Disney brings Ponyo to Blu-ray with a gorgeous combo pack that also includes a DVD of the film. The movie is shown in a stunning 1080p widescreen format (1.85:1 aspect ratio) with crisp, vivid colors that really enhance the beauty of the film. The English audio track is in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, while Japanese and French tracks come in Dolby Digital 5.1.Bonus features include a full storyboard presentation of the film and “Meet Ponyo,” a more than three-minute introduction from producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall. “The World of Ghibli” is a wonder collection of features and featurettes that explore Ponyo and the other films in the Studio Ghibli family. A sample of these small bits include a conversation between Miyazaki and John Lasseter of Pixar, a look at Miyazaki’s inspiration for the film, looks at the locations, music and voiceovers, as well as trailers.