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 is a rottentomatoes approved film critic and podcaster. She loves all things animation and does a monthly podcast on classic Disney films and on obscure animation at Rachel's Reviews. She also is the founder and lead host of The Hallmarkies Podcast. She grew up with mainstream classics like The Little Mermaid and The Simpsons but also loves indie and anime fare like Song of the Sea and Your Name. Most important to her is discussing all kinds of film and TV shows with her friends and all of you. Follow Rachel on twitter at @rachel_reviews and on her blog