Ponyo: Pure Hand-Drawn Magic

What a joy this film was. In an age where all animated film are done with computers, and they all play host to lousy fart jokes catered to kids and lousy jokes over children’s heads catered to adults, here is a movie that is full of imagination and beauty without the use of computer or a script which kow-tows to audience demographics one at a time. Like a new adaptation of The Little Mermaid, Hayao Miyazaki blends a working-class human world and a magical underwater playground seamlessly, with gorgeous images and perfectly depicted young characters leading the way. It would require a heart of steel to not be swept away by this movie– it’s one of the best of the year.

The film begins with a gorgeous sea of jellyfish and other underwater creatures. We see a man, presumably with magic capabilities, creating and altering creatures. A small fish, who we learn is Ponyo (voiced by Noah Cyrus), escapes and hitches a ride with a jellyfish to the shore. She gets accidentally stuck in a glass jar, where she is rescued by Sosuke (Frankie Jonas). She immediately is enraptured by this young boy, and by licking his blood where he cut himself rescuing her, she is on her way to becoming human. Sosuke lives with his mother Lisa (Tina Fey) on a house perched on a cliff over the sea, while his father (Matt Damon) works on a ship– too often for his mother’s liking. Meanwhile, as Sosuke and Ponyo bond, Fujimoto (Liam Neeson, the magical man from the beginning, seeks out Ponyo since he is her father– and there are deeper implications to Ponyo’s desires to become human than she even realizes.

The imagination of this movie is endless. You think it can’t top the gentle beauty of Ponyo’s first escape, and yet it does, many times over. You think the relationship between Ponyo and Sosuke can’t be any more lovely than at the beginning, and yet it can. You think the story will remain simplistic, yet the family dynamics are layered, and the visits to the senior home (with characters voiced by Cloris Leachman, Betty White, and Lily Tomlin) are full of comedy, advice, and sympathy. You think an anti-pollution message will become preachy, yet it never comes close. This is a film that is chock to the brim with surprises.

The dubbing is flawless– gone are the days when you could mock a Japanese film for their mouths moving inconsistently with the dialogue. The American casting and dialogue, as overseen by John Lasseter, is as close to flawless as one can fathom. Anyone who is potentially discouraged by “Japanimation” and the usual baggage that comes with that term need check their baggage at the door. My girlfriend, who expressed doubts regarding the film due to the typical Japanimation an American is exposed to in their childhood, left thinking it was the best movie she’d seen all year. I couldn’t help but think it was up there as well. I sat in my seat with a grin on my face, feeling like a kid, wishing that I was still a kid so that I could watch the film in awe and think it was the best movie I’d ever seen– it’s certainly light years in front of the normal kid movie fare. Despite my love for Robert Rodriguez, I almost dread this coming weekend’s Shorts, because I wonder how his kid movie can compare with the simple majesty of Ponyo.

In the end, it’s not just about the state of movies for children about children today, which are usually patronizing and woefully uncreative. It’s about the state of filmgoers in America in general, who are normally far too cynical to appreciate a work of art such as this. I expected to hear some chuckles in my theater at some of the “cheesier” moments, to use a term coined by audience members who deem themselves too cool to get lost in sentimentality. Outside of the Pixar films, and the Disney 2D animated films of the early 1990s (which were heavily inspired by Miyazaki), there aren’t any kid-friendly movies as smart, as creative, as earnest, and as magical as the movies of Hayao Miyazaki in God knows how long. I’m not saying his movies are only for kids, I am saying they are some of the few films of the past twenty-five years or more that will successfully enrapture children while making the adults feel the same sense of wonder. I am not familiar with his entire body of work– I intend on doing so as quickly as Netflix will allow. There’s not nearly enough magic on the big-screen nowadays. Ponyo gives you an ocean full of it.

~ by russellhainline on August 21, 2009.

3 Responses to “Ponyo: Pure Hand-Drawn Magic”

  1. I wonder what you would say about Ponyo after enjoying the rest of Miyazaki’s work. I went to Ponyo with Spirited Away, Totoro, and Princess Mononoke in mind, and left kind of disappointed. The story just wasn’t as tight as the others. Points of tension were presented briefly and then dropped. (family issues? never really revisited that again). There also wasn’t as much of the subtlety the others had. Miyazaki was a little more gentle with the insanity in the other films, and wove the magic/imaginary/fantasy in with the real-life situations and emotions very artfully — which, i felt, was what made them so wonderful. but here, even the whole climax of the film was just like “Say you love this fish or the universe explodes.” “Ok. I love this fish. (Why is the universe going to explode? what are the elixirs all about?)” “(don’t you worry about that)”. The end.

    That said, it was a beautiful film and I did enjoy it. 😀 (Or maybe I have a heart of steel 😦 ).

  2. […] Mr. Fox 6. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs 5. Coraline 4. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 3. Ponyo 2. The Princess and the Frog 1. […]

  3. Young Girlfriend Passwords 2009


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