Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is the newest film by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata’s Studio Ghibli, a figurative factory of fantastic animated films.
Ponyo, the movie’s release title in America, definitely cashes in on the fantastic portion of its prodigious pedigree by introducing the audience to a charming tale of love and adventure.
Ponyo makes a splash right off as soon as the title character, a cute girl-faced goldfish, appears on screen and follows with a spectacular view of the deep sea as she rides a jellyfish to the vast world of the bright surface. She frolics until trapped in a discarded bottle from which she is rescued by a young boy, Sosuke.
After healing Sosuke’s small scrape, Ponyo and Sosuke become fast friends and share the day together. After this lovely outing to school, Ponyo’s father, a Nemo-esque wizard, retrieves her back to his submarine home.
At this point I would say the story basically progresses to a final test of love (as most fairy tales), but I lack the gall to gloss over some of the more interesting instances. Ponyo, having been taken home, develops the ability to manifest herself as young human girl or an anthropomorphic girl-fish form in addition to a new repertoire of magical powers.
These magic powers, which later include the rather odd ability to enlarge objects, allow Ponyo to escape to the surface. During her daring escape, she accidentally triggers an upwelling of the ocean and the life therein, bringing forth immense waves to cover the land and the revival of prehistoric coelacanthiforms.
In other words, this film makes a point of taking imagination and presentation to the movie screen with only small concessions to reason. The story is spectacularly creative but a bit puzzling.
However, all of those things are natural in a story like Ponyo. The film exudes elements of a bedtime story: the lovable and varied cast, the fantastic adventures and the fast-paced chase scenes.
Everything that makes young children rush to their beds with excitement surrounds Ponyo and Sosuke. Yes, this film was generated for a younger demographic, but I could not see how such a film would need to differ from something like Miyazaki’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky to be child-friendly until I noticed something special about Ponyo.
The matter is, Ponyo continually emits positive exuberance. I was pleasantly stunned by how simple and innocent the emotions are.
I couldn’t help but feel as if I was watching a film on par with pure jubilation of the classic Disney animations.
Besides my subjective perspective, Ponyo also towers as another testament to Studio Ghibli’s talent. The animation and soundtrack are perfectly seamed and present the picturesque setting in wonderful detail.
I recall the Peter and the Wolf quality the music took when instrumentally announcing the first appearance of Ponyo. The animation keeps to a high caliber while holding to pastels for a bright look.
The cast is also astonishing in holding many talented voice actors: Noah Cyrus (as Ponyo), Frankie Jonas (as Sosuke), Tina Fey (as Sosuke’s mother Lisa) and even Liam Neeson (as Ponyo’s father Fujimoto).
Not wanting to dismiss the actors so readily, I really must hurry on to the characters. Miyazaki completes another fantastic job of fleshing out the characters of his story. Though there was not much to grasp about Ponyo and Sosuke, they did not feel as two-dimensional as I had expected.
Their motivation was simple, but when trying to reach their goals, they each demonstrated ingenuity in solving their problems just as real children (should they have access to magical powers). Besides Sosuke’s mother Lisa and her all too realistic relationship with her family, the supporting cast did their best to stay noticeable and likeable without becoming distracting.
Personally, I think it is fascinating how well Miyazaki can direct his animation to be even less insipid than supporting casts of actual humans in a non-animated movie.