Movie #32: Ponyo

One of the qualities you can find abundant in films by Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki is imagination, not just in story-telling, but visually as well. While Ponyo is clearly inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”, it is still full of fresh wonder and enchantment. Sosuke is a 5-year-old boy living in a small Japanese fishing village (voiced by Frankie Jonas, younger sib of the teen megastar trio) who finds a special little fish caught in a jar in the ocean. It turns out that the fish is actually magical, with a human-like face and can transform (among other things). Sosuke names her “Ponyo” and takes care of her, but after she’s washed out to the ocean, she is taken back into the custody of her father the ocean wizard (voiced by Liam Neeson). In their brief time together, Ponyo developed affection for Sosuke (and eating ham), and seeks not only to escape, but also to become a human girl. When she breaks free from her father’s home in the deep, she inadvertently unleashes powerful magic that he had been collecting and that causes an imbalance in nature. Ponyo returns to Sosuke and his mother Lisa (who is voiced by 30 Rock’s Tina Fey) on the back of giant tsunami waves caused by the undersea cataclysm. Now she appears as a little girl, with the voice of Noah Cyrus (younger sister of teen megastar Miley). In the end, if Sosuke proves that he loves Ponyo, she can stay human. Even though describing the plot makes it seem like a grand folktale, it doesn’t really play out that way. Miyazaki films are often focused on the interactions and relationships between a few main characters. The incidents that occur often come across as mundane (even though the context around them probably isn’t). In this movie, Ponyo and Sosuke really bond when they sail off (the whole area has been flooded, making mountains into islands) to try to find Sosuke’s mother Lisa. Also, kid characters in these films typically act like kids. They don’t have wisdom-beyond-their-years or anything like that (but they are often extra-adorable) and they typically have pure souls and innocent hearts. While I can’t say I’m sure what the moral of this story is supposed to be, it’s very heart-warming and charming. (4 out of 5) (By the way, don’t let the top billing fool you. Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon also lend their voices but only in relatively minor roles as Ponyo’s ocean-goddess mother and Sosuke’s sailor father, respectively.)

32 down, 18 to go!

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2 thoughts on “Movie #32: Ponyo”

  1. Ponyo was a very beautiful movie, as to be expected of Miyazaki, yet still very fresh to those of us that have seen most of his stuff. I really loved the operatic and Wagner references or influences, with that music in the opening as well as a lot of the music throughout, and then that Ponyo’s original name was Brunhilde. Adorable, in a dorky way.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I always love Miyazaki movies. Thanks also for pointing out the Wagner connections. Now that you mention it I can really see more of the similarities.

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