Finally after all these years I got to see a Hayao Miyazaki movie in a theater on a big screen. This mini-review is based on the dubbed version currently in the theaters. When I get hold of the DVD I will probably write a more detailed review with pictures.
Ponyo is a gentle children’s story comparable to My Neighbor Totoro. If you are in the mood for something like that, this is pretty good. The story is supposedly inspired by “The Little Mermaid”, but it has little resemblance to either the Disney version or the grim original story by Hans Christian Anderson.
A little boy named Sosuke (Frankie Jonas) finds a beautiful goldfish (Noah Lindsey Cyrus) with an oddly-human face. He names her “Ponyo”, keeps her in a bucket, protects her from curious friends and feeds her ham from his sandwich. So she falls in love with him.
Ponyo is the daughter of the sea-wizard Fujimoto (Liam Neeson) and she uses her father’s magic to change herself into a little girl. Unfortunately this upsets the balance of nature and catastrophe threatens unless Fujimoto, Ponyo’s mother (Cate Blanchett), Sosuke’s mother (Tina Fey) and Sosuke himself can find a way to set things right.
Since this is a Studio Ghibli production the artwork is naturally of very high quality, but the drawing style is surprisingly simple and childlike. Back in the 1980s it was common for a big-budget anime to have very detailed and realistic backgrounds. Today, when such things can be churned out cheaply using computers, it seems the mark of a high-class production is to have simple backgrounds that are obviously hand-drawn.
I appreciate the fact that Disney is willing to invest a significant amount of money when it releases a Mayazaki film, paying for an expensive dub using big-name actors and releasing dual-disc DVD sets with lots of extras. On the other hand, they are not willing to spend much on the theatrical release. They are showing the movie in a minimal number of theaters and making little effort to publicize it.
I had to drive over 20 miles to reach a theater that was showing Ponyo. Meanwhile, every single theater in the area is showing another Disney movie about violent, flatulent guinea pigs. Now of course, Disney knows a lot about marketing animated films, and I’m sure that they will say that most Americans want to see the guinea pigs and don’t want to see a classic film by the greatest living master of animation. But this is a self-fulfilling prophesy. Most Americans don’t know that Ponyo is available and couldn’t find a theater showing it even if they wanted to see it. It would be nice if Disney would take a chance and make it more widely available.