Animated Movies, Reviews, Studio Ghibli, Studios

Studio Ghibli Countdown: ‘Ponyo’

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Are you ready to get your cuteness on? If the answer is yes then Ponyo is just the film for you. It’s right up there on my list of the most adorable movies I’ve ever seen. For some, it will be too sticky sweet but I love it.

The story for Ponyo is pretty simple. It’s a mild take on The Little Mermaid where a little water creature meets a  boy named Sōsuke. They quickly become friends after he rescues her from a bottle, and he names her Ponyo.

Unfortunately, this friendship has thrown the balance of the ocean off causing Ponyo’s father Fujimoto to become involved and the ocean to go into chaos. The rest of the movie is a series of adventures with the water as Ponyo transitions into and out of her human and fish forms.

The greatest thing about Ponyo is how joyous it is. Even events that could be upsetting or depressing feel positive and exuberant. There’s little things like Ponyo’s obsession with ham, which is hilarious, and big epic moments like when she is running on the ocean as it surges into a tsunami.

We also get some nice peaceful moments with Granmamare, the God of Mercy, which help keep it from feeling to spastic or insane. Cate Blanchett voices Granmamare and she reminded me a little bit of her work as Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings films.

Perhaps because Ponyo is Studio Ghibli’s highest grossing film in the US, it seems to be criticized more than their other films. I have always loved it but heard from others that it is convoluted and cluttered so I was curious what I would think on the rewatch. You know what? I loved it again. I guess I see where the detractors come from with their complaints, but I just find it super charming.

First of all, the animation is stunning. I’m a sucker for anything with the water, and Ponyo has some of the most beautiful water imagery I’ve ever seen on film. I love the way the water moves and flows, and how the colors of blue and black merge together.

I also find Ponyo refreshingly unpredictable. Ponyo changes from fish, to human, to part fish, back to human again a lot, and you never know quite where things are going to go. Plus, like I said, she’s just so darn adorable in whatever phase she is in!

I also like the message about accepting people for who they are and loving them unconditionally. It is the love between Sōsuke and Ponyo that balances nature and puts things as they should be. The balance also has a little bit of an environmental theme without it being too heavy handed. The whole reason Ponyo is found by Sōsuke is because of trash on the bottom of the ocean. In a way, the humans are the ones responsible for throwing the ocean out of balance and it makes sense a child like Sōsuke would be the one to set things right. The senior citizens seem to recognize this fact and marvel at the power of nature that surrounds them.

The music by Joe Hisaishi is some of his best for Studio Ghibli. It reminds me of one of the great James Horner scores and really draws you into the scenes. It would have been easy to do a very precocious score but its gravitas helps you take the film more seriously.

The English dub is decent featuring Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Betty White and more. I always prefer the subtitled version but Ponyo isn’t half bad in the English dub and it will make it watchable for small children who will probably love it best.

Roger Ebert described Ponyo as “one of the rare movies where I want to sit in the front row, to drown in it. This is more than “artistry”. It is art.” I agree with him. It is a stunning and joyful experience that I highly recommend for families to watch together. It’s also a fantastic film for beginning Studio Ghibli fans as it is not as confusing or bleak as Princess Mononoke or Nausicaa. It’s a real special treat from the animation master, Hayao Miyazaki.

What do you think of Ponyo? Put in the comments section below.

Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden

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About Rachel Wagner

Rachel has loved animation since she was a little girl singing songs from The Little Mermaid at the top of her lungs. She currently works in social media marketing and loves to blog and vlog about Disney, Pixar and all kinds of movies in her free time. Her favorite movie is Up and she considers herself quite the Cinderella aficionado seeing every version she can get her hands on. She also loves animated TV shows like Simpsons, Gravity Falls, Star Wars Rebels and more. Follow her on twitter @smilingldsgirl
  • Marier Villarreal

    I have never seen this film, but it does catch my interest, honestly.

    • Rachel Wagner

      Let us know what you think when you see it.

  • I just love how freaking adorable this one is!! And I just looooove the animation on Ponyo’s mother, so beautiful and her pressence is so calming!! Again this is a movie I’d love to see in the summer and especially close by a body of water (lol!!!)! 😀

    • Rachel Wagner

      I agree. I love the mother also. She’s so calming which is needed in the high energy film. I love watching it in summer also

  • Míriam

    Honestly I found Ponyo a little disturbing. Yes it’s adorable at times, but I think “cluttered” as you mentioned is the best word to describe how I feel about this movie. Sometimes it’s like the plot has no idea where it’s going. But my biggest issue is how at the end Sosuke makes a commitment that shouldn’t be expected of a kid his age. He was basically engaged to marry Ponyo. On the plus side, I looove the soundtrack, specially the theme song, it’s so catchy!

    • Rachel Wagner

      I assume if he didnt want to he wouldn’t be forced once he becomes an adult. It’s more of a deep friendship I think

      • Míriam

        I do hope so. It’s been a while since I watched this movie (and I watched the Japanese version, maybe they changed something in the English dub like they did with the end dialogue of Whisper of the Heart), but from the best of my memory, Ponyo’s dad really emphasizes how serious the decision is and how Sosuke has to stick with it.