David and Lara’s Reviews of Ponyo

26 Aug


Ponyo is the new masterpiece by Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki. I love Miyazaki. He’s one of the select directors that I will see anything he puts out. And I have yet to be disappointed. Ponyo is the story of a goldfish girl that runs away from her underwater wizard father in an attempt to see more of the world, and ends up falling in love with a real boy. Or at least the five-year-old equivalent of falling in love. Along the way we get to see why this ocean wizard hates humans so much, meet the goddess of mercy, and witness the return of several species of prehistoric fish.

That’s what makes this movie, and every other Miyazaki film, wonderful. You have a basic plot, in this instance the goldfish falling in love with the boy, but that’s never all you get. You’re going to get several ideas and characters that have been pulled from myth or folklore. You might get a couple scenes of the natural world doing things that city bound humans wouldn’t find natural. And you will almost always have an underlying idea, central to the plot, of civilization destroying nature, and thus itself.

The genius here is how clearly I see that in the trash floating through the ocean and the indiscriminate fishing nets, but a small child just sees obstacles for our little goldfish princess to avoid. At five or six years old, a child will not see pollution for the planetary destroyer it is. They see it as an extension of the bad guy, or, in Miyazaki’s films, as the bad guy itself.

Ponyo is a perfect example of this because the child characters see the pollution as something to avoid, while the old, bitter ocean wizard sees it as a sign of what is wrong with the human race. True wisdom lies somewhere in between these two views. The message of the film almost seems to be: don’t give up on the human race because of our lack of judgment, but remember why the earth is such a difficult place to live now.

All of that to say, this movie is just as much for adults as it is for kids. Everyone should see this. And if you have never seen a Miyazaki film before, start with this one. But don’t stop. Your life will just get better and better the more you see.

Ponyo is not my favorite Miyazaki film. It’s not my least favorite either. But the amazing thing is, this man could put out a movie about almost anything and it would be better than any animation coming out of America right now. It’s so ironic that Disney distributes his stuff here. The best thing they have done in the last several years is the animated sequences in Enchanted. And believe me, Ponyo is better than that.



Hayao Miyazaki described his newest film Ponyo as a reinvention of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I can see that. If by “reinventing” he meant making a far more spectacular, bizarre, and heartwarming story than Ariel and pals could ever hope to be a part of. Ponyo is absolutely perfect. Despite its perfection, however, some critics have found aspects to complain about. Here are some of those arguments and my reasons as to why they are wrong:

The voice actors– While I had great trust in Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, and the other big names who contributed their voices to this film, I was not too psyched about the potential disasters of having the youngest Cyrus and youngest Jonas brother voice Ponyo and Sōsuke. I thought it was nepotistic and unnecessary. However, I, reluctantly, thought both Disney copyrighted children did excellent jobs of voice-acting. They were charming and adorable, damn it. Frankie Jonas’ rendition of Sōsuke reminded me of a new generation’s Linus from Peanuts, which is just about the best compliment I can give.

Anti-climactic ending– In both Spirited Away and Ponyo there is a Test administered to the lead character at the finale of the film. In both instances, the Test is built up to seem complex and impenetrable and ends up being fairly easy. A question is asked, the hero replies, and it’s all done. Everyone is happy! While it is a very simple way of ending a film, I think it totally works for Miyazaki’s form of storytelling. There is no need for a final battle after all that the film’s lead has been through. Besides, Miyazaki fashions such beautiful images and fantasies, he really doesn’t need to adhere to Hollywood Movie-Making 101.

“Too childish”- I have heard and read many reviews that have complained of the lack of sophistication in Ponyo. I agree that, compared to his more recent films (Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke), Ponyo is much more of a children’s movie: it has a much shorter running time, less scary images, and centers on two young children. However, to see these elements as flaws is unreasonable. If anything, I think viewers should celebrate Miyazaki’s ability, at the age of 68, to capture the wonder and innocence of a child. Ponyo is a both breathtakingly beautiful and giggle-inducingly adorable story of the purity of love. A love between a five-year-old boy named Sōsuke and a goldfish girl to whom he gives the name Ponyo and promises to protect forever. And in watching this film, marveling at the grandiose sea world and mythology that is created, adults can be transported to the same state of child-like curiosity and awe.

As David said, Ponyo is a masterpiece. It is stunning. It is sweet. It is runner up, in my book, to the best children’s film made in the past five years (after Wall-E, of course).  It is so great that my sister and I went and adopted a goldfish immediately after viewing the film. We named her Ponyo and sang her the song from the movie’s credits. Unfortunately, Ponyo past away yesterday. And Ponyo, just as the film she was named for, will live on in my heart forever.

Ponyo Morgan: August 24, 2009-August 25, 2009

Ponyo Morgan: August 24, 2009-August 25, 2009


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