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Always enjoy a Ghibli story; Art quality not up to tradition
on March 3, 2010
This film is a quality family film with the usual Miyazaki combo of cute characters, morally-ambiguous "villains" and an eco-infused adventure along the way. Since "My Neighbor Totoro" Miyazaki hasn't made a film quite as accessible to children as "Ponyo." (It also logs in at about 15-20 minutes shorter than most Miyazaki films.)
One of charms that has drawn me to Miyazaki's work is the exquisitely hand-drawn feel of the pencil line art that have always been painted in a graphically rich two-shade process. The backgrounds are often enchanting pieces of watercolor-style art that could stand as lovely art even apart from the bonus you get with charming and mysterious animated characters. Fortunately, as the age of computers has sped up the production process and reduced the costs of 2D animation, even the previous digitally painted Miyazaki/Ghibli film "Howl's Moving Castle" still preserved a tremendous level of the artistic quality that the earlier hand-drawn, hand-cel-painted films had.
"Ponyo" on DVD is a stunning transfer compared to previous Miyazaki DVD releases. There is hardly any artifacting on the DVD transfer. The only bad detail is the hiccup where the film transfers out to play English intro/credits or Japanese intro/credits depending on what language has been chosen. Blu-ray is even more pristine a picture.
Unfortunately, this more pristine quality shows off that Studio Ghibli compromised too greatly on the digital conversion of the hand-drawn art. Line art looks overly black, rigid and sterile at times, like it was auto-traced with vector-art animation software. The softer nuances of the pencil art upon which it is based are lost most of the time. The digital painted "cels" are clean, but overly flat and without grain, and frequently missing the elegance of the two-color shading style that has been used consistently in previous Miyazaki films. Backgrounds at times look like cheaper digitally airbrushed backgrounds, which really stand out as horrid compared to some of the nice "Ponyo" backgrounds. "Ponyo" is very bright and colorful, yes, but below the art standard of previous Miyazaki films. Some scenes are so bad, and some characters so consistently poorly rendered (like the "bad guy" father Fujimoto) that "Ponyo" art comes off more as a glorified Saturday Morning Cartoon, and not as a lilting, nuanced, subtly elegant masterwork like has come before.
"Ponyo" is a charming and worthwhile film to see, for sure, especially if young children are in tow. But of all the Ghibli films to get Hi-Def treatment no film has come up so short in showcasing the Studio Ghibli masterful, artistic 2D animation heritage as "Ponyo". I wish "Totoro" or "Howl's Moving Castle" or "Castle in the Sky" had been released on Blu-ray instead.