Top positive review
7 people found this helpful
A creative, intelligent take on an environmental theme
on February 7, 2015
The ocean is a good subject for Hayao Miyazaki, who often threads environmentally-conscious messages into his stories. In "Ponyo" the issue of humanity's impact on the sea takes on the creative and unexpected form of an explosive oceanic revival, rather than a slow, ugly degradation. Miyazaki's script, as is usual for Studio Ghibli movies, assumes a lot of intelligence on the part of its audience, which includes many children who are perhaps infrequently exposed to topics like the Cambrian period and the moon's gravitational interaction with the ocean. More often than not, animated movies talk down to kids and try to hold their attention with frenetic action and gags. But Miyazaki understands that young people have a great capacity for appreciating wondrous and sublime things, and especially for internalizing fun facts about the world, as anyone who ever went through (or is still in) a dinosaur or a space phase will remember. Thus the kids in "Ponyo," a young boy and a fish who can take the form of a girl, at one point rattle off the names of the long-extinct, Devonian-era creatures gliding beneath their vessel. Water, so pervasive in the story, seems to take on a new texture in every scene, and its different looks convey its diverse qualities from the tranquility of a moonlit sea to the curious physics of bubbles to the inescapable, town-destroying violence of a tsunami. The dramatic tsunami sequence, which plays to a song that sounds like The Ride of the Valkyries, is poignant in light of the destruction that visited Japan a few years after the movie's release.
There are times, and they have become more frequent in recent years, when Miyazaki struggles to bring his fantasies to believable conclusions. "Howl's Moving Castle" (2004) suffered from a nearly incomprehensible ending, and the problem is not wholly overcome in "Ponyo." The culmination of this movie has the 5 year-olds make major decisions that, in reality, could hardly be demanded of them. By comparison, the younger sister in Miyazaki's definitive "My Neighbor Totoro" (1988) was around the same age and acted more in accordance with it. In "Ponyo" the children's behavior seems to be increasingly at the service of the story's environmental message, and this prevents them from becoming quite as real and relatable as the girls from "Totoro," "Kiki's Delivery Service" (1989), and "Spirited Away" (2001). Nonetheless, "Ponyo" is further and welcome evidence of Studio Ghibli's unrivaled mastery of the animated medium.