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The son of a sailor, 5-year old Sosuke lives a quiet life on an oceanside cliff with his mother Lisa. One fateful day, he finds a beautiful goldfish trapped in a bottle on the beach and upon rescuing her, names her Ponyo. But she is no ordinary goldfish. The daughter of a masterful wizard and a sea goddess, Ponyo uses her father's magic to transform herself into a young girl and quickly falls in love with Sosuke, but the use of such powerful sorcery causes a dangerous imbalance in the world. As the moon steadily draws nearer to the earth and Ponyo's father sends the ocean's mighty waves to find his daughter, the two children embark on an adventure of a lifetime to save the world and fulfill Ponyo's dreams of becoming human. Written by
The Massie Twins
I thought long and hard before giving the film this score, but there are simply too many things that make Ponyo not work for me. This latest animated movie from Miyazaki, who needs no introductions, had the intriguing premise of the sea. He spoke of the sea being a character in itself. I was intrigued to see the movie. I knew it had two children as the frontline, but being a fan of My Neighbour Totoro, I knew that Miyazaki has an unreal insight into the mindset of children.
The very first scene of Ponyo is breathtaking. Hundreds of fishes and jellyfish accompanied by breathtaking, oceanic music, finally zooming in on a man in a pinstriped suit, creating a bubble around his ship. We later find out that he is the father of one of the main characters, the fish girl Ponyo who wants to become human after befriending Sotsuke, a 5-year old boy living in a house by the sea. She is able to do this with a mixture of her father's magic (which she's inherited) and Sotsuke's blood (a drop of which she licked when he cut himself).
The problem with Ponyo is the vagueness of the story. There is practically no sense of conflict to the story at all. There is no substantial threat to the characters, and they have very little development. That the characters are so young shouldn't justify this, if we remember Mei in My Neighbour Totoro. Also, Ponyo's father is so at odds with practically everything in the movie's universe, it's hilarious and off-putting at the same time. Ponyo herself is, personally, creepy rather than cute (and her numerous little siblings are no different). I don't understand how nobody finds it peculiar that Ponyo, supposedly a goldfish, has a humanoid face (and Sotsuke shows her to quite a few people). It's even weirder when Lisa (Sotsuke's mother, whom he oddly always refers to by name), an intelligent woman, sees Ponyo eat a slice of ham in whole (as a goldfish) and isn't at all surprised about it. The only really developed character, and the warmest, is the loudest of the old women at the retirement home where Lisa works.
What Ponyo lacks in substance, it makes up for in visuals. The movie's highlight in my opinion is where Lisa and Sotsuke are driving down a road continually drenched in waves, on top of which Ponyo is running. These waves take on the form of giant fish. A wonderful piece of animation. The many underwater scenes are beautiful, with underwater creatures big and small swimming. Something about the overall production values of the visuals feel a bit unfocused, though. The morse code scene is then hilarious.
On the whole, however, Ponyo feels like a lot of elements that just don't work together. Sotsuke faces no real trials like other young Miyazaki protagonists have faced. None of the characters feel like they serve any real purpose other than to bring Sotsuke and Ponyo together. The film's subplot of Ponyo's magic causing a rift in the natural order and causing the moon to come closer (which explains the flood) is never sufficiently delivered to the audience.
I was simply expecting a better delivery from a master storyteller like Miyazaki. Ponyo may only really work for the smallest children, but that's excluding a large part of Miyazaki's fanbase. He's one of those filmmakers whom I respect for continually showing people that animated movies can be for people of all ages. Ponyo obviously aims at a lower age group, but I just hope that the children will be more drawn into Sotsuke and Ponyo's story than I was (there is so much courteous and/or cute dialogue that I felt downright embarrassed at points).
Decent, but definitely not the brightest spot in Miyazaki's repertoire.
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