This year has been a terrific one for animated film with the beautifully dark Coraline, Disney’s return to hand drawn animation, and perhaps Pixar’s greatest triumph Up. With all these achievements in the West one would be forgiven for not looking to Japan and Studio Ghibli whose last release, the regrettable Tales of Earthsea garnered lukewarm critical response at best. However Ghibli’s new film Ponyo is truly a revelation. A remaking of The Little Mermaid with a strong story and a beautifully illustrated world for the loveable characters to bask in, makes this film (that lasts just over an hour and a half) an incredibly watchable and fresh fairy tale.
It follows the adventures of Ponyo, a goldfish princess who is caught and taken from the sea by a young boy Sosuke. They almost instantly love each other and when Ponyo is taken back to the sea her subsequent escape and transformation into a human has drastic effects upon the environment, but ultimately love triumphs all. Now the reference to the environment may sound like even more tedious moaning from the film industry about the effect human beings are having upon the environment, but, as it’s the fault of a goldfish in this film we can breathe easy and choose to ignore the ecological message if we so choose and focus on the fairytale before us.
The central love story of this fairytale between the two five year protagonists may appear odd at times (especially as one of them is a magical goldfish for the majority of the film), but it is also extremely endearing and adds an innocence to a viewing. This makes Ponyo well worth giving a chance if you are immediately put off. Ponyo’s animation alone is enough to keep most audiences interested, each scene is immaculately hand drawn and as well realised as any of Disney’s classics. The storyline may seem forgettable in comparison and although this reviewer would argue that it is the visuals of Ponyo that are far more memorable than the story, this does not mean the story is particularly weak; it is a retelling of The Little Mermaid and there is no way of getting around that. It does however a have decent original story, and while it isn’t as deep as other Ghibli films its simplicity allows you to relax and enjoy the impressive visuals.
The manner in which the story is told through the voice acting is also pretty darn good due to the union of Studio Ghibli and Disney that brings premier voice acting talent to the film. With names such as Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon it seems primed for success in the West. However it is unfortunate that the film brings yet another Cyrus sister and another Jonas brother into the world of entertainment (both the title roles are played by the next generation of Disney), with the pair duetting in the trying Ponyo theme. But besides this; Ponyo is truly a charming film and although it’s perhaps not as complex as other Ghibli films such as Spirited Away, it easily lives up to the major western animations of this year. The only real tragedy of Ponyo is that it hasn’t been nominated for any major awards in the West and is only in selected cinemas, an unfortunate burden that is placed upon Japanese animation.
Suitable for any audience, Ponyo is a must see for anyone who is open to any kind of animation.