Tour de Miyazaki: Ponyo
Released: 2008 (Japan), 2009 (United States)
Brief Synopsis: In this (very) loose adaptation of The Little Mermaid, a young fish girl dreams of being human so she can befriend a young boy.
Themes: Ponyo is aimed at younger audiences than most of Miyazaki’s films, possibly even more so than Kiki’s Delivery Service. Therefore, the main theme of the film is friendship and accepting people. Sōsuke, the human boy, happily accepts Ponyo into his life without question. His mother, Lisa, initially judges Ponyo’s father Fujimoto based on how he looks and acts, only to immediately tell Sōsuke not to do what she just did. Fujimoto initially sees all humans as evil and does not want his daughter associating with them. Through Sōsuke and Ponyo, the two adults learn to look past generalizations and prejudices.
Animation: The water effects are absolutely stunning, and they are completely hand-drawn. The world, especially the character designs, is a bit more cartoonish than most of Miyazaki’s other films, but the style suits the film well, as it is targeted toward a young audience. That is in no way a slight; everything about the art is extremely vibrant, and the relative lack of realism adds to the fantasy of the story. This is probably the brightest, least dark of Miyazaki’s films, in terms of both style and substance; the shading isn’t as pronounced, creating much more solid colors and shapes, and everyone and everything bursts with color.
Sub vs. Dub: This is another tough call, because both the English and the Japanese are very good. I think that the Japanese is better because it provides a little more explanation of Fujimoto’s magic and why things are happening, and because I like the Japanese voice actors for Ponyo and Sōsuke better. However, I much prefer Tina Fey and Liam Neeson as Lisa and Fujimoto, respectively. Like Spirited Away, the English dub is definitely good, but the Japanese is just slightly better.
Verdict: Ponyo is a sweet and fun movie, but it probably isn’t the best showcase of all of Miyazaki’s talents. It is extremely beautiful, but because it is targeted at such a young audience, some things seem a little too strange or unbelievable. Lisa accepts a lot of the world’s magic without question and the citizens take a natural disaster way too well. These by no means ruin the movie, and they contribute to its sweetness, but every now and then, I was taken out of the movie because of them. But overall, this is a wonderful, fun movie.