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Ponyo: An Adventure for All

| Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Japanese import “Ponyo,” released across the country on Aug. 14, is sure to be one of the best-reviewed movies of the fall. However, you’ve probably never even heard of it. That needs to change.
“Ponyo,” from legendary Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki, takes Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and transplants it in modern-day Japan. In the film, a young boy named Sosuke finds a goldfish and decides to care for it. This goldfish, named Ponyo, goes on a quest to become human because of her love for Sosuke. What follows is a whimsical journey that ends in a profound message about love. Bear in mind, this movie is for children. The cheese factor is high.
When Ponyo, hungry for adventure, leaves her father’s submarine-like home to travel to the surface, she immediately stumbles upon Sosuke. He brings her a bucket and takes her to school. The bond is instant and strong. After her father finds her and brings her back home, she escapes and takes on a human form. However, in becoming human, Ponyo has upset the world’s ecological harmony. She must either revert back to being a goldfish or become a real human through true (but platonic, as they are five years old) love with Sosuke.
The overt environmental themes are no accident. Miyazaki, it would seem, is just as concerned with making a film about friendship as he is about making an eco-friendly one. That being said, his statement is sincere and an important message to send to his younger audience in particular.
Miyazaki’s films, which include “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Princess Mononoke,” “How’s Moving Castle” and 2003’s Oscar-winning “Spirited Away,” are never domestically popular but are consistently well-reviewed. This is generally because he is so unabashed about them being cliché. He fills his films with overt messages about love, friendship, hard work and helping others. He makes them accessible to all and revels in their playfulness. But even though it seems as if he often sees with the eyes of a child, his films have such poignancy that adults are usually just as entranced as children. He creates magical worlds where even the most childish themes seem to have depth. His entirely hand-drawn worlds become lenses through which one can look at what is really important in life.
“Ponyo” is no exception. It is cheesy and childish, but it is made with such a tailored maturity that all can at least appreciate it. It needs to be seen with an open mind and a willingness to forgo reality. The dialogue is unsophisticated and the relationships don’t always seem fully formed, but it is still worth seeing. Aided by a great cast of voices, including Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Matt Damon, Betty White, Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas (those last two have some famous older siblings you might know), “Ponyo” is a wonderful adventure fit for kids of any age. Just sit back and enjoy its simplicity. If you can do that, you might be surprised.