Movie Review: Ponyo

By Tom Houseman

August 19, 2009

Every Miyazaki has a great moment like this one. Really.

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Looking at the children's movies that come out these days, it seems like parents would benefit most from either dropping their kids off at the theater and running for it, or popping a couple valium and pretending they were somewhere else. Why can't there be children's movies that appeal to adults as well? Don't we have a sense of wonder that a film can tapped into with a combination of whimsy and charm while still keeping the kiddies entertained? If you're asking these questions (and have sat through any of the Madagascar films) then Hayao Miyazaki is here to answer your prayers. Ponyo, The latest from Japan's animation master, is not as good or as complex as Miyazaki's earlier work, but it will certainly delight children of all ages, and adults will find plenty to enjoy in this sweet and utterly gorgeous film.

There are plenty of passionate fans of Miyazaki's work, which includes Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. Like these classics, Ponyo is a children's film with a message and a heart, deploring our society's disregard for the environment. But instead of feeling preachy, this commentary is just one element in the story of Sosuke (voiced by Frankie Jonas), a boy who finds a goldfish (Noah Cyrus) trapped in a jar in the ocean. Sosuke rescues and befriends the goldfish, naming it Ponyo, who is revealed to be the daughter of Fujimoto, the God of the Sea (Liam Neeson). Fujimoto is furious at humans for their destruction of the ocean, and when Ponyo uses her magic to become human, the balance of the earth begins to fall apart.


No, it's not the most fascinating of stories, but where the plot falters, the characters shine. Sosuke and Ponyo are both adorable, and no matter what your age you will be won over by their determination and charisma. The most complex characters are the parents, Fujimoto, who is extremely overprotective of his daughter, often to his own detriment, and Ponyo's mother Lisa (Tina Fey), who is dealing with a troubled marriage and trying to keep her son safe. Other entertaining characters that flesh out the film include a group of old women voiced by Cloris Leachman, Betty White, and the wonderful Lily Tomlin. So many funny and goofy scenes fill this engaging film that you won't mind the weak story, you'll just be enjoying the ride, no matter how old you are.

Where this film outshines Miyazaki's previous efforts is in the animation. While every Miyazaki film has been beautifully animated, Ponyo is absolutely breathtaking, worth watching for the images alone. With a truly unique style that helps to remind you that CGI is not always the answer for animated films, the pastel colors evoke a childlike magic that brings the film to life and will take your imagination for a ride. Ponyo is not just for fans of Miyazaki, and definitely not just for children. This film is proof that somebody besides the folks at Pixar is making movies that are actually for the whole family, and is a rare treat that should not be missed.



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