You know, Ponyo is only Hayao Miyazaki's latest smash hit from Japan. Why shouldn't you go watch it when it opens across 800+ theaters in America on Friday?
Sarcasm aside, there are no real reason to get extremely giddy over a children's tale of the sea, a loose reinterpretation of the fairy tale The Little Mermaid. If anything, Ponyo deviates from the common trend of Studio Ghibli's previous mainstream animated feature films in that it is very much focused on entertaining children, and only children.
The visuals are prismatic and mysterious, pulling the audience in with its proudly hand-drawn aesthetics, but the plot might leave some parents hanging. Still, that might not be the only thing an adult can enjoy with the film. See what I mean after the jump.
The characterization and plot to Ponyo are not sophisticated, barring a couple instances when the Ponyo's mom and Sousuke's mom talk things over, and a few other instances where Asian family values are in display. In the story, Ponyo, a magical goldfish with a human face, escapes her father's underwater lab after a fated meeting with Sousuke, the human boy at the tender age of five. As expected, after some trials and tribulations, Ponyo and Sousuke are fated together, but the interesting thing about film is the how, and not so much the way things ended.
And that takes us back to the gathering of parents and their secret chatter about their children's future. And the marvelous animation of the sea, of sea creatures, of ships at sea, and the phantasms that mark this magical film. I confess, it was so engrossing that for several moments I had Spirited Away flashbacks. You know, the part where Chihiro's mom and dad gorged on delicious, unattended morsels of epic proportions and turned into pigs. Just imagine sashimi made of the fish Ponyo ran atop in that unforgettable, stormy scene! Rest assured, you can nonetheless totally enjoy the wondrous visuals Ponyo has to offer even if you aren't planning to go to the cinema after skipping lunch (like I did).
Also, the star-studded dub shouldn't worry you either. Like most Disney dubs of Studio Ghibli films, Ponyo's dub is very competent and I believe even the potentially shrill Noah Cyrus (sister of Miley Cyrus) and Frankie Jonas (of the Jonas Brothers fame) as Ponyo and Sousuke, respectively, are no real reason to skip this film. I particularly liked the exchanges between Tina Fey and Matt Damon during the light signal scene, in which Sousuke played mediator for his mom and dad after a broken promise to come home.
With all that said, it does look like there are some things an adult can enjoy in Ponyo--besides letting the inner child loose, that is. If anything, those of you who are parents, please take your children to see the film--and don't leave any 5-year-olds at home! (Bonus item: those who get my horrible joke should take a look at this criticism piece from director Mamoru Oshii and Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki.)
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