By Rich Cline
As with Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle, Miyazaki takes us on a strange flight of fantasy with this adventure centred around two young children. While it continually stimulates our imagination, it's a little too odd to really resonate.
Sosuke (voiced by Jonas) is a 5-year-old living in a cliff-top house with his frazzled mother (Fey) while his fisherman dad (Damon) spends most of his time at sea. One day, Sosuke finds a strange little fish named Ponyo (Cyrus). What he doesn't know is that Ponyo's the daughter of the Mother of the Sea (Blanchett) and the keeper of balance (Neeson), and that Ponyo is using her powers to become human. Actually, Ponyo doesn't seem very aware of this either, but whatever she's doing is throwing nature out of balance.
While there's a clear environmental message, with vivid images of pollution and strong comments on the damage humans inflict on oceans, we are continually distracted by surreal, fantastical imagery rendered in that unsophisticated, flat anime style. This isn't to say that the film isn't eye-catching; it certainly is. Colours swirl and shapes emerge from each other to create fascinating flow of water and creatures that's so inventive that it's impossibly to conceive where it might go next.
Young children will be entranced by this imaginative approach and by the story of a boy and girl facing a series of outrageous magical situations. But it's not so easy for the adults in the audience, since the characters written rather thinly and drawn fairly awkwardly. Although the animators continually catch us off guard with moments that are truly wondrous to look at. And as usual Miyazaki is unafraid to let things get rather creepy and scary along the way.
It's these touches keep the film from ever being dull. Ponyo gets the impulse (and ability) to become human after tasting blood and eating meat. Her father has a plan that will restore the balance of the oceans at the cost of humanity.
Sosuke's best friends are three cranky old ladies (Leachman, White and Tomlin).
And his mother is an almost comically terrifying bad driver. These challenging, witty touches are what make Miyazaki's films so unforgettable.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 14th August 2009
Box Office Worldwide: $187.5M
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures
Production compaines: The Yomiuri Shimbun, Studio Ghibli, Nippon Television Network Corporation (NTV), Dentsu, Hakuhodo DY Media Partners, Walt Disney Company, Mitsubishi, Toho Company, Taikei Office, Asahi Soft Drinks Company, Lawson
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Fresh: 146 Rotten: 13
Cast & Crew
Starring: Yuria Nara as Ponyo (voice), Hiroki Doi as Sosuke (voice), George Tokoro as Fujimoto (voice) (as George Tokoro), Tomoko Yamaguchi as Lisa (voice), Yūki Amami as Grandmammare (voice), Kazushige Nagashima as Koichi (voice), Akiko Yano as Ponyo's Sisters (voice), Shinichi Hatori as Anchorman (voice), Tokie Hidari as Kayo (voice), Eimi Hiraoka as Kumiko (voice), Rumi Hiiragi as Young Mother (voice), Tomoko Naraoka as Yoshie (voice), Nozomi Ôhashi as Karen (voice), Kazuko Yoshiyuki as Toki (voice)
Also starring: Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, Cloris Leachman, Lily Tomlin, Betty White, Toshio Suzuki, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Hayao Miyazaki