Despite my usual love for the films of Hayao Miyazaki, Ponyo has always been one of my least favourites from him. Regardless, there’s still a lot about it that I like and I can’t really call it a bad film by any means, because it’s still enjoyable while it lasts. Sure, it still has a whole lot of really goofy elements behind it but I think there’s enough to keep one waiting for more to come along. It’s rather disappointing especially when you compare it to a masterwork much like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, or My Neighbor Totoro, but it should provide enough to keep one satisfied. It feels like a film so wallowed with its approach which shouldn’t be a bad thing, but in this scenario it had me thrown off although not to the degree which Howl’s Moving Castle had done so (the only Miyazaki film which I found rather difficult to absorb).
As always with a Miyazaki film, the animation is always so gorgeous to look at. Whether it range from aspects such as the landscapes or the designs of the characters, there’s a lot one can expect if they are watching something under the direction of Hayao Miyazaki. Knowing his creativity there’s always something to be found within what he can present for his audiences on the screen, and it’s carried throughout his entire body of work and it doesn’t disappoint a fan of his much like myself, but for those who expected something among his best, Ponyo most certainly is not the place to go for it is definitely a weaker entry.
Taking inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid it’s interesting to see where exactly Miyazaki intends for such a tale like this one to flow. It’s admittedly very messy when you compare it to the simple nature of something like My Neighbor Totoro or the overly abundant world of Spirited Away but at the very least there’s still a sense of fun being captured, it’s something I’ve always admired with how Miyazaki goes to tell his stories, even in a weaker piece. It certainly feels cohesive in terms of its flow, but it feels like Miyazaki is still trying to find a specific tone for Ponyo because some moments are cute and charming and then we have another portion dedicated to serious moments, and the mix which we’re left with never really seemed to connect so well.
It does capture a very childlike spirit in the sense of My Neighbor Totoro, but this can be seen as one of the major backfires that Ponyo suffers. Whereas you can tell in My Neighbor Totoro an essence of childhood is captured through its nature, it seems as if Ponyo only has a real goal to find its appeal to children – and for them, it’s certainly rather serviceable. Sometimes, I got a feeling aspects of it bordered towards cute for the sake of cute. Given the fact that Miyazaki can find a means of absorbing his audiences more than just through his own visual style, that’s the very level to which I find that Ponyo most noticeably finds itself amongst the weaker entries within his body of work in spite of carrying his usual charm.
Creating a range of memorable characters once again, sometimes it feels a little baffling what motifs they have behind all of them. At the very least, it’s a little odd seeing the title character of Ponyo always heading out for ham, and while it may strike some as cute, it does become weird when it’s a big focus for her character. But eventually, I just went along with it, it only put more of a smile on my face as it kept going. Just watching Ponyo’s progression through her own experiences with Sosuke, it’s quite interesting to watch how the arc of her growth is created but it certainly becomes problematic when the other human characters are not nearly as compelling except for Sosuke.
It’s admittedly really goofy knowing how Miyazaki’s stories can flow, but at the very least for his fans there’s something to be enjoyed. Like it or not, the animation is certainly rather beautiful to look at, which shouldn’t be a surprise from a vision much like that of Hayao Miyazaki. I feel it ranks as one of his lesser works particularly because I’m not too sure where it aims sometimes, but I still had fun while it kept going. Ponyo isn’t the great Miyazaki like I would always want to be seeing from a master at animation much like he, but while it lasts, there’s a whole lot of fun to be had with the distinctive charm it leaved behind.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Disney.
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki
Produced by Toshio Suzuki
Starring Tomoko Yamaguchi, Kazushige Nagashima, Yuki Amami, George Tokoro, Yuria Nara, Hiroki Doi, Akiko Yano, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Tomoko Naraoka (Japanese version)
Starring Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Noah Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Lily Tomlin, Betty White, Cloris Leachman (English dub)
Release Year: 2008
Running Time: 101 minutes