With the recent BD/DVD release of Ponyo (Gake no Ue no Ponyo) I thought I'd share my thoughts on latest film by the legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki.
The plot centers around a little goldfish named Ponyo. She's washed ashore after getting stuck in a glass jar and is soon rescued by a 5-year-old boy named Sousuke. The two quickly develop a close bond, however Ponyo's presence in the human world throws the balance of nature into chaos. Only a sacred test of love can restore the world to its natural state and grant Ponyo's wish to become human.
First off Ponyo is hands down one of the most adorable movies I've ever seen. Miyazaki himself said that he made this movie for five-year-olds because of their unique perspective of the world. Everything they see is alive somehow and that's exactly what he wanted to bring to the world of Ponyo and I think he succeeded. But older audiences will find plenty of enjoyment from the purity and innocence that this film represents. It really makes you feel like a child in such a way that you don't feel as though you're being looked down upon, and that's mainly due to Miyazaki's uncanny ability to embrace audiences of all ages. With that said however it does require a suspension of disbelief. I think one of the reasons Miyazaki's worlds feel so real is because of how casually his characters react to some truly outrageous situations. In Ponyo's case, when the balance of nature goes completely out of whack the characters react as though it was a small flood. Nobody's panicking, nobody's becoming overcome with fear. You get the sense that this has all happened before and everyone's used to it. It's almost as if throwing off the balance of nature is merely a minor inconvenience for these people. It's a simple matter of letting yourself accept the things that you see as oppose to asking too many questions.
The animation is one of the film's more unique qualities. Studio Ghibli managed to simultaneously take a large step backwards and huge leap forward. The animation takes on a very simplistic style with pastel and watercolor backgrounds that have a storybook feel to them. The characters are designed with the same elegance that can be found in any of the Ghibli's productions yet they also have a less dynamic approach to their detail. It makes for a very inviting look that's not seen very often in Japanese animation. But the leap comes from the sheer number of characters and creatures that are brought to life. This is evident right from the start in the very first shot of the film, where we see a seemingly endless stream of tiny creatures make their way through the sea. Not since Pixar's Finding Nemo has the ocean looked so enchanting.
As for the characters themselves, they are some of the most adorable and lovable characters I've ever encountered. Miyazaki said that he didn't want Ponyo to be simply another Totoro. But the spirit of that film is definitely present here. You feel as though you've known Sousuke and Ponyo for years. Miyazaki has stated that he likes to make movie about normal children. Sometimes those children just happen to have special abilities, but they're still no different from you and me. I believe that's why people are able to relate to his characters so well. That goes for the adult characters as well. Although Sousuke's mother is a bit eccentric, her concern for him is genuine and doesn't feel forced or tacked on as it does in most children's films.
This is one of those rare opportunities in anime where both the English dub and the original Japanese versions of the film are both on par with each other. The voice acting on both sides are both outstanding. I especially have to give props to Noah Cyrus's performance as Ponyo. Ponyo is a very hyperactive child and most of the time characters such as herself come off as very annoying in English dubs. But almost every one of Cyrus's line deliveries was simply priceless. It's definitely worth checking out, even if you're like me and much prefer foreign films in their respective languages.
There are some nice bonus features too (Although not nearly as many as the Japanese version.) We get a hefty amount of behind the scenes featurettes and interviews compared to the norm for Ghibli releases in the U.S. But one of the most fascinating features is the World of Ghibli; an interactive tour of the several worlds from the films of Hayao Miyazaki. It's a nice introduction to those who have yet to view his other films. The Blu-Ray also comes with a DVD copy of the film. I don't own an HDTV at the moment so I can't comment much on the HD version but the DVD looked just fine. The picture was bright and vibrant and the sound was great. The only problem I have with both discs is that you have to go to the menu to switch the menu as oppose to being able to do it on the fly. This something I haven't seen them do since the Kiki's Delivery Service DVD, but that was done because English version had a longer opening and closing credit sequence. Since Ponyo has an equal running time in the various languages included on the disc there really is no excuse.
I'm a little baffled that Ponyo wasn't nominated at this year's Academy Awards (Not that it would have won anyway. The Secret of Kells must be one hell of a movie.)
Ponyo is a wonderful entry in the Studio Ghibli library and I truly believe that it will stay with a generation of young viewers for years to come.