Monday, 15 February 2010
The new animated fairytale from Hayao Miyazaki is just as wonderful and imaginative as one would expect from the man behind Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, and yet somehow Ponyo scales greater heights of joyous fantasy than even Miyazaki’s previous films.
Taking Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid story and adding his own child’s-eye spin, Miyazaki introduces us to Sosuke, a 5-year old boy who finds and rescues what he thinks is a goldfish on the shore. He names it Ponyo, intending to keep her as a pet, but Ponyo turns out to be a magical sea creature of considerable power, who sets her heart on becoming human with Sosuke. But Ponyo’s undersea father Fujimoto isn’t happy, knowing that there are rules that divide the ocean and human worlds, and Ponyo’s magic begins to have drastic consequences for the whole planet.
Ponyo has a dramatic and fantastical storyline, but even its most intense moments are shot through with optimism. The characters who seem bad turn out to have good motives, and the main authority figure – Sosuke’s mother Lisa – doesn’t bat an eyelid even when the mighty sea itself appears to be bearing down on her. Miyazaki fills the whole film with a spirit of childlike hope, and it resonates in each aspect of the movie, from the gloriously alive hand-drawn animation to the vibrant colour palette.
The script is funny and light-hearted, and the American voice cast, including Tina Fey, Liam Neeson and Matt Damon, are great – even if Neeson has a lot of unnecessary exposition to speak aloud to no-one but the fishes. But the film's best moments are when no characters are speaking, and it is left to the images and the classical score to drive the story forward, as in the beautiful and otherworldly opening sequence in which Ponyo first ventures to the surface.