"Ponyo" DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

3/04/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review


Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Written by Miyazaki, 100 minutes, Rated G

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

"Ponyo" is a loose adaptation of the classic story "The Little Mermaid," but for anyone remotely familiar with its writer and director Hayao Miyazaki, it's obviously not that simple. Miyazaki, responsible for some of the best animated films of the last 20 years ("Spirited Away," "Princess Mononoke," "Howl's Moving Castle"), has taken the beloved fairy tale and, like the other stories, he's made it his very own mix of dreamy fantasy, environmental cautionary tale and heartwarming coming-of-age story.

The very loosely structured plot follows a young boy named Sosuke, who lives in a small house on a cliff by the sea with his mother Lisa, who works at a retirement home in town. Sosuke's father is one of many men in the town who spends most of his time out on the sea on his ship, and the only contact he has to his family is through occasional radio transmission.

One day Sosuke is playing in the water by his house and a small creature pops up out of the water. It appears to be a fish, but it has a human face. Sosuke puts her in a pale of water and takes her home, giving her the name Ponyo. What Sosuke doesn't realize is that the little creature is the daughter of a sea wizard named Fujimoto, who used to be a normal man but is now a protector of the sea. Trouble arises when Ponyo starts to become human and all of nature becomes unbalanced.

"Ponyo" is interesting for a Miyazaki film in that it covers the very serious themes of environmental awareness and the connection between nature and humanity that he explored in his more dark, adult-oriented work such as "Princess Mononoke" and "Nausicaa" but also has the lighter tone and characterization of stuff like "My Neighbor Totoro." That's not to say it should be taken any less seriously--the film conveys the relationship between man and nature as a troubled one, and there are sequences where we explore the ocean and see the damage our industrialization is causing. Those matters never overcome the primary plot, though, and the film is just as much a story about the relationship between children and their parents as an environmental allegory. Also, as is typical with Miyazaki, Ponyo's father is never made out to be a total villain. There are a lot of gray areas in his character.

Of course, the real stand-out of the film is the animation. Miyazaki has been working for a long time, and it's as clear as ever that he is a complete master of his craft. He's taken a different approach with the style here, employing a more grainy, chalky style here than in something like "Spirited Away," but it works perfectly with the story, and I don't think I've ever seen hand-drawn animated imagery as spectacular as some of the water sequences. And the character animations are just as great as the scenery, with much of the movement done in very fluid ways to relate to the aquatic imagery.

Disney dubbed the film and released it in the United States as they've done with previous Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films, and as always the translation and dubbing is superbly done, with such talents as Liam Neeson, Matt Damon, Tina Fey and Cate Blanchett supplying the adult voices and Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas providing the voices for Ponyo and Sosuke, respectively.

As with many of Miyazaki's films, there are some sloppy moments where the plot wanders a bit and the ending is as aggravating as they almost always are with the director, but with such stellar animation and an engaging and moving story, it's easy to forgive such little problems. "Ponyo" is another Miyazaki masterpiece to add to the shelf.

Grade: A

Watch the movie trailer for "Ponyo" below. What are your thoughts?

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