Hayao Miyazaki’s 2008 film Ponyo (崖の上のポニョ) doesn’t reach the heights of some of his more acclaimed work. But the film nonetheless enthralls like a film from Miyazaki could with its stunning visuals, likeable characters and irresistible magic.
The title character, a goldfish, escapes from the ocean and is rescued by a friendly five-year-old boy named Sosuke. The more time they spend together, the more Ponyo wants to become a human. But her simple desire unleashes a devastating series of events as her wizard father tries to retrieve her and her use of magic throws the world off-balance resulting in a severe storm and tsunami.
Ponyo is a magical fairy tale, albeit one that may not make much sense at times. There is a blending of ominous real world situations with more fantastical moments and twists that can feel a little random and disconnected.
But it’s hard not to remain in awe by the stunning visuals and enamored by our two leads in Sosuke and Ponyo. The bond and friendship they develop is just one part of the film’s warmth that really helps to solidify its sincerity.
Sosuke’s mother Lisa works at a local nursing home and Sosuke is shown to be good friends with the residents and visitors to the center. Sosuke’s relationship with his mother and seafaring father is fun and comfortable in a way that illustrates their closeness without needing to spell things out.
The real human (and human-fish) relationships serve as a great emotional foundation to the film’s more fantastical elements that help take what could be a simple slice of life story into a more epic adventure.
The underwater scenes of Ponyo and her father and many sisters are stunningly animated with bright bursts of color. The storm and tsunami scenes are edge-of-your-seat thrills that rival any big budget live action film.
With its genuine warmth, stunning visuals, blend of emotional and lighthearted moments, Ponyo is another worthy and magical experience presented by the talented creative mind that is Hayao Miyazaki.