Or Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea as it’s also known. I’ve actually owned this DVD since it hit the shelves in the US, so at least a couple years. I love Miyazaki’s work, but for some reason… I just never got around to watching it. To this day I’m still not quite sure why. But I decided now was as good of a time as any, right? And since this is a Foreign Fare, I–of course–watched the Japanese version first for review. The film was inspired by The Little Mermaid, both the film and the original fairy tale. Though it’s still vastly different from either. The film follows 5-year-old Sosuke, a young boy who lives with his mother, Lisa, in a house on a cliff by the sea. His father Koichi is a sailor, possibly a fisherman or in the Navy (it’s never clear), and is constantly away from home. But one day, Sosuke finds a little goldfish-esque person/creature/thing and names her Ponyo. They bond throughout the day, but what he doesn’t realize is that Ponyo is the daughter of a once-human wizard named Fujimoto, who wants her back. But she eventually escapes his grasp once again and becomes a 5-year-old human girl… but unfortunately offsets the balance of nature in the process.
This is probably Miyazaki’s best purely kids movie since My Neighbor Totoro. I don’t count Spirited Away, since that’s not purely a kids’ flick. It’s just so magical and imaginative and immersive. This is definitely a magical realism film, because the most bizarre, fantastical things happen and nobody questions them. It’s like “What? You say there’s a little girl running on a fish made of water in the middle of a tsunami? Let’s stop to check.” So if you can’t get your mind to wrap around magical realism, this film is going to bother you. Otherwise, it’s a wonderful little film.
The animation alone is gorgeous. Everything is so flowing and surreal, yet still kid-friendly. The film pops with so much color and so much movement and kineticism. And it apparently took so much work to do everything this film did, as they broke personal records in how many panels had to be drawn (or something like that) just to get not even a minute’s worth of film.
If there was any negative, it’s that I wanted a little more from the mythology. It had such a rich world and mythos around it that I wanted it to go into more details. I don’t need everything explained to me, but I would have liked a little more exploration of certain things. And I’ll be honest… there were some things that confused me, especially in the beginning. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. Everything about this movie has to be surmised. Nothing about anything is really told to you directly. Things happen and you’re either with it or you’re not.
The Japanese voice cast was fine. I didn’t have a problem with it outside your typical squeaky young, hyper Japanese girl voice for Ponyo. But I’m used to that. I do want to eventually check out the English dub, which is apparently pretty good, as well. And I can’t imagine it being terrible with the cast it has: Liam Neeson, Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Cloris Leachman, Lily Tomlin, Betty White, and then a couple Disney kids for the leads (Miley Cyrus’ little sister, and the Jonas Brothers’ little brother). And Ghibli/Disney dubs are always pretty good.
Overall, it’s just a magical film. I loved the look of it. I loved the magic and wonder of it. The innocent love between the two kids. The background drama of somewhat torn family (similar to Totoro). It’s just an all-around fun movie… again, if you can get behind magical realism. And if you can let go of the fact that nothing is going to be explained to you. If you’re OK with those things, you’ll be fine with this film. And if you’re a Miyazaki fan, definitely check it out.