Movie Review: Ponyo

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A little boy meets a magical little fish and they embark upon an epic waterlogged adventure.

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Hayao Miyazaki, 2008

Brunhilde is a little fish with a human face, the daughter of a wizard called Fujimoto, a human who lives in the sea…somehow. She heads to the surface of the water and is found by a little boy with a bucket. The boy, Sosuke, renames the fish girl Ponyo and they strike up a friendship. He cuts his finger and Ponyo licks it, healing it instantly. Sosuke shows Ponyo to his mother, Lisa, and the residents of the old folks’ home where she works. Soon enough Fujimoto comes for his daughter, thinking she was kidnapped, and this sparks Ponyo to use the magic imbued in her by his blood. She makes herself human and goes to find Sosuke, but the magic she used causes a tsunami that submerges the coastal town Sosuke lives in and threatens to destroy the world.

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An imaginative children’s movie, I found this film much more enjoyable than a lot of Miyazaki’s work. All of the water art is really beautiful, but the most visually arresting scene is when the water has risen above the roads and buildings and Ponyo and Kosuke travel by boat; the ancient sea creatures that swim beneath them are wonderful. I got to see the dubbed film, which has some pretty neat voice work from people like Betty White, Tina Fey and Cate Blanchett, although Liam Neeson’s world-weary and quick-tempered Fujimoto is a highlight. He seems to capture the spirit of the dark-eyed old sorcerer perfectly. Ponyo is a great character, too, stubborn and cheerful, endlessly delighted with life. The fantasy of the movie is a little confusing at times – it runs on its own internal logic which seems to be consistent, but there were several times when I had no idea what was going on. I imagine this would have frustrated me when I was a kid. Once Ponyo’s mother, the goddess of mercy, comes into play, the movie becomes significantly more confusing, and it was at about this point that it lost my interest a little. The ending seems very abrupt, too.

Philosophically, there’s a very sweet message in this movie about the power of friendship, even if I’m not sold on the idea of 5-year-olds in love. It features the very young and the very old, and draws parallels between the two. Lisa is an interesting character, a mostly-single mother who is frustrated with her husband, but she makes some seriously questionable parenting choices. (“You’re five, but you’re totally mature enough to handle being left alone in the middle of a natural disaster, right? Cool.”) Fujimoto is equally questionable parenting-wise, but he’s also a wizard who lives under the sea and his wife is a giant goddess, so there’s that. There are some strange messages about the environment and risky behaviour that are pretty questionable, but easily overlooked. The movie has a great, positive, uplifting spirit about it that infuses all the action, which is probably the best thing about it.

Ponyo on IMDb

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