Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo is a gorgeous elemental fable more explicitly aimed at children than some other Ghibli movies. The animation in this movie is absolutely breathtaking, particularly the underwater scenes where each frame is full of hundreds of colourful flowing fish and lights. I would say this is a close third behind Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away in terms of beautiful visuals, but the pencil-drawn backgrounds really make this film stand out among the Ghibli catalogue.
The scene in which Ponyo escapes her father and rides a tidal wave of colossal golden fish just had my jaw on the floor: this is surely the stuff animators wet dreams are made of. The scope of Miyazaki’s endlessly generous imagination never fails to amaze me, and it’s in full force throughout Ponyo.
The story here is a touching family drama with some splashes of the mystical/supernatural, and is most effective when it keeps its feet on the ground. If I have one slight complaint about this movie, it’s that the epic scope of the ending (‘save the world, restore harmony to nature’) feels a bit forced, and the environmental moral of the story a bit simplistic when compared to classics like Mononoke or Totoro. Oh, and the English voice actress for human Ponyo is pretty annoying. As always, watch in Japanese if you can.
Even despite a couple of minor flaws, Ponyo is a spellbinding watch. I find it hard to believe that this is supposed to be one of Miyazaki’s least acclaimed films, if I’m honest. I keep expecting to find at least one dud in the man’s catalogue as I explore it, but I’m starting to think he might just really be that consistent. Ponyo is a more than worthy addition.