Last night, I finally got around to watching Ponyo.
I’d watched Kiki’s Delivery Service earlier in the day, and had heard that Ponyo was similar in terms of light fluffy content and so forth, so I settled down for an evening of enjoyable, candy-sweet plot fun. And I was more than rewarded for my troubles!
Ponyo is loosely based on the story ‘The Little Mermaid’, and follows the story of the little goldfish, Brunhilde, as she escapes from her home with her father, the King of the Sea Fujimoto, and finds herself being taken care of by a small boy named Sosuke, who names her Ponyo. Utterly besotted, Ponyo decides that she wants to become human and live with Sosuke. This leads to an unbalancing of the forces of nature, which could lead to the entire planet being flooded.
The art, as usual, is of a fantastic standard, very similar to Kiki’s Delivery Service, but with the additional cleanliness of line and brightness of colour which comes from animation advancements. The underwater shots are probably where the film is at its strongest, visually, with a plethora of fish and jellyfish beautifully recreated in an aquatic haze, with all the colours of the rainbow added in for extra effect and to make things look all shiny. The animators clearly had the best time ever with the jellyfish. Which would be great, there are hundreds of them, possibly more. But jellyfish? One of my more irrational terrors. (They are freaking SEE-THROUGH. And when I am at the beach I am BLIND anyway, as you can’t wear glasses in the sea, and contact lenses are a no-no in case you want to actually blind yourself. So I live my life in fear that I am going to find myself in contact with one and NOT SEE IT COMING) However, the way this land under the sea uses giant jellyfish-esque cases as walls to buildings is a fun idea, and they are all light up and pretty, so that is also good.
I watched the dub, as I always do with Ghibli films, and as usual it left nothing to be desired. Pixar once more made it a game of spot-the-famous-actor, and I failed miserably. And I also didn’t realise that Matt Damon was that good a voice actor. Cate Blancett is well cast in her usual role as the ethereal supernatural being, and Tina Fey sounds nothing like her. Which would explain why I spent most of the film listening to Sosuke’s mother and thinking “Gosh, I don’t remember Cate Blancett sounding anything like that”. Because she didn’t. Because it’s Tina Fey. Who is ideally cast as Lisa, Sosuke’s mother.
Ponyo as a fish is the cutest creature in the world I’ve ever seen. I was unconvinced when I saw the still on the cover, remembering “Shark Tale” and the way fish with faces really freaked the crap out of me in that, but in Ponyo it works, and when she’s moving she moves like a fish. Add to that a veritable army of tiny little identical sisters and some of the earlier scenes are a joy to behold. Liam Neeson has once more proved himself to have the most amazing voice in the world, which no matter what he’s doing the voice for it is always entirely appropriate. The best bit was the way this very gentle, deep voice was paired with a very eccentricly styled character, all big hair, stripes and angles, and makeup that wouldn’t look out of place in the film “Kinky Boots”.
I was impressed as well with the way it referenced the details of Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid’, rather than just taking the rough shell of the story, and noting that Ponyo could turn into “foam on the sea”, and the effect of the taste of human blood – the darkness of the story being alluded to, if never embraced in the same way the darker elements are in other Ghibli films. As well as that, the characters around Sosuke and Ponyo were all beautifully realised, from the old ladies at the senior centre to Sosuke’s parents, whose relationship is lovely despite their never being on screen together.
I think overall I would give this 7/10, the animation quality is high, the dub track is spot on, and the story itself is as sweet as pie. Whilst, yes, it does have the potential to be a much darker story, it wouldn’t have been Ponyo if they’d decided to go down that road. The reason I’m rating it as a 7, though, is because this is all around a Family Film. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but what I got from this was that perhaps the plot could have been more involved, especially towards the end of the film when the ‘test’ of Sosuke is put into action. Elements could have been explored further. Given as it’s a Miyazaki-directed film, the restraint he has shown in keeping the story simple is very impressive (considering Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle), however I think the film could have benefitted from a little more involvement in the plot. The film runs at 99minutes, but it doesn’t feel that long – rather like Terry Gilliam’s recent “Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”. Both films are beautifully realised, but you never quite feel as though the plot has really ever started.
But I don’t want to leave this review feeling as though that’s a bad thing. This film is wonderful, and you come out of it feeling really pleasant and happy, and, if you watch the dub, with the ending credit’s wonderfully bouncy song (performed by the two lead VAs, Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas) in your head for the next week.
If You Liked This, Try:
-Kiki’s Delivery Service
-The Cat Returns
Things I have learnt from this film:
-Fish with faces can be cute, not creepy
-There is at least one more Jonas brother
-Billy-Ray Cyrus really wanted sons, not daughters.