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Ponyo (Review)

Aun Ngo

Wed Sep 09 2009


ACADEMY Award winning director Hayao Miyazaki takes moviegoers on a magical new adventure in his latest film Ponyo.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Little Mermaid, the main character in the film is Ponyo – a young, mischievous and adventurous goldfish who drifts away from the undersea home she shares with her father, the wizard Fujimoto, and hundreds of little sisters.

Far from her home, she meets Sosuke, a five-year-old boy who lives by the sea with his mother. Sosuke’s care for his new pet quickly wins Ponyo’s heart.

Desperate for his daughter to return home, Ponyo’s father uses his magic to bring her back. But Ponyo defies her father’s orders, and transforms herself into a little girl in order to return to Sosuke’s house.

Ponyo’s desire to become human upsets the delicate balance of nature and triggers a devastating storm. And here, Sosuke is faced with a challenge. He must prove that his love for Ponyo is true, in order to restore the earth.

The top film in Japan in 2008, Ponyo has grossed more than $165 million worldwide. Image: Supplied

The top film in Japan in 2008, Ponyo has grossed more than $165 million worldwide. Image: Supplied

Unlike Miyazaki’s previous films, such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, Ponyo is kid-friendly. The film is not so dark, and the storyline is much simpler.

The visuals are stunning, and evoke a sense of nostalgia, of the innocence and simplicity of childhood.

Underwater houses, golden fish lighting up the ocean, dark sea monsters, Ponyo running across hundreds of swimming fish during a storm – Miyazaki’s animated world is so vibrant and energetic that it seems to have come straight out of a child’s imagination.

But where the film falls short is in its character development. The characters lack depth, and the relationships between them could have been fleshed out better.

It would have been good to see why Sosuke had such a love for Ponyo from first sight, and more about Ponyo’s father, Fujimoto, and his relationship with Ponyo’s mother.

Like in several of Miyazaki’s other works, Ponyo is also a social commentary on the issue of environmentalism. Fujimoto has such a dislike for humans because of their careless treatment of the ocean, which is why he is determined to nurse it back to health.

Ponyo is a poignant reminder of the beauty of the earth, and marine life in particular, and why we must preserve it for as long as we can.

The English-dubbed version is voiced by the likes of Cate Blanchett, Betty White, Matt Damon and Liam Neeson, with Frankie Jonas and Noah Cyrus as the leads.

But it is not the celebrity cast which makes the film worth watching. The animation, and simple, unconditional love story will touch the hearts of all who watch it.

Ponyo is now showing in cinemas across Melbourne.