Published Aug 13, 2009Inevitably, given the pedigree of Hayao Miyazaki, having made exceptional anime films such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, many folks will attribute genius to Ponyo regardless of how the film actually unfolds. This is perfectly fine, as people love fitting in, but the truth of the matter is that Ponyo is a bit of an unfocused mess. It's a beautifully animated and frequently intriguing unfocused mess but a mess nonetheless.
Told with the logic of a child in mind, and based loosely on The Little Mermaid, Ponyo starts out with the titular magical goldfish (voiced by Noah Lindsey Cyrus) escaping the clutches of her strangely androgynous father, only to wash-up on shore where five-year-old Sosuke (Frankie Jonas) discovers her. This bond between boy and pet strengthens when Ponyo licks a wound Sosuke incurs, mystically healing it, much to his surprise.
Of course, the blood helps transform Ponyo into a girl, upsetting the balance of the ocean, resulting in a tsunami and the decision to give up magic for love and a mortal body. Meanwhile, some politics involving an absent, environment-destroying father build, with Lisa (Tiny Fey) acting as Sosuke's sole caregiver, but fizzle out in favour of some Aphrodite-in-reverse hooey, sans castration.
Moving past the practicality of having a five-year-old profess lifelong affections for a pet-turned-lover, a feeling of childhood wonder and matter-of-factness to the implausible give the film a sense of whimsy and veneration that youngsters should appreciate. Adults, on the other hand, may find curiosity in themes of aging and environment in relation to an imperilled nuclear family, despite their desultory handling.
Ponyo is a bold and respectable departure from Miyazaki's more mature fare, embracing the mindset of childhood, but ultimately pales in comparison to his earlier work. Fans of his likely won't care, while newcomers to the fold may walk away scratching their heads. On the upside, an unorthodox entry into the childhood fable lexicon is always welcome, even if it's only partially successful and features an obnoxious protagonist. (Buena Vista)