Ponyo Review: There’s Something Fishy Going On Here
Visionary director Hayao Miyazaki has given us such animated gems as Spirited Away (a film which continues to astonish even after repeated viewings), Princess Mononoke and Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Indeed his Studio Ghibli is the only studio in the world dedicated to producing hand-drawn animated features.
Miyazaki’s latest offering, Ponyo, is a triumph and proves that you don’t need fancy computer graphics when you have an all-conquering imagination.
Inspired by the classic Hans Christian Anderson tale, The Little Mermaid, Ponyo is a spirited goldfish who longs to leave the undersea Kingdom ruled by her father – the rather David Bowie-esque and androgynous Fujimoto (Liam Neeson) – and become human.
She befriends a small boy, Sosuke (Frankie Jonas), who adopts her first as a pet. But Ponyo starts to change rapidly when she drinks a drop of his blood and rapidly becomes a human child. When the balance of nature is disturbed and the small coastal town is threatened with destruction, Sosuke and Ponyo must team up to prevent a tragedy.
Miyazaki is nothing if not inventive and the undersea kingdom really gives him an opportunity to cut loose – it’s populated by bizarre, haunting, fantastical creatures; a million miles away from the safe fish-with-faces of Disney’s The Little Mermaid or Finding Nemo.
Ponyo herself is a strange creature – a goldfish that sprouts a human face, then two chicken feet and eventually full human features – it’s something just this side frightening; enough to keep adults and children enthralled. Scenes in which a human Ponyo is seen running along a gigantic wave (itself made up of smaller waves that all look like fish – complete with eyes) are absolutely magnificent.
There’s a familiar environmental message as you’d expect from Miyazaki – a personification of the spirit of the sea being mistreated by pollution and overfishing – captured in a great scene where Ponyo gets stuck in a trawler net with thousands of other fish.
If anything, this could have done with more development. Sosuke is challenged to save the world and ten minutes later he’s done it; a more in depth quest would have been more rewarding. Still, it’s aimed squarely at children and for them it’s perfect – an imaginative, original and above all different animated experience.
The dubbing for the western release is a little off – a familiar problem with Japanese releases. Tina Fey fits perfectly as Sosuke’s mother, but Liam Neeson and Cate Blanchett are less successful, Neeson in particular feels really stunted and wooden.
With all the fuss surrounding the return to hand-drawn animation caused by Disney’s overrated The Princess And The Frog, Ponyo stands out as genuine breath of fresh air – an imaginative, original and inventive piece of cinema.