Miyazaki's films are refreshing for their even pacing and tempered characters. A far cry from the neurosis of Disney characters where everyone is shouting and riding on high octane. Ponyo is almost completely silent in its first 10 or 15 minutes, and even when the dialoug begins it has more of a sobering effect. If you pair that with the gorgeous hand drawn characters and hand painted backgrounds you suddenly remember what animation felt like twenty-plus years ago.
The story of Ponyo is truly Disney-esque on the surface - but only on the surface. A boy, Sosuke, finds a "goldfish" trapped in a jar and frees her. He also gives her the name Ponyo. It doesn't take very long for Ponyo to develop a pet-like affinity for Sosuke, leading her to the decision that she wants to be a human. It's really that simple. The rest is Miyazaki's masterful aptitude for making the plot less important than his signature slice-of life sequences of how people relate to each other and their environment. Watching Ponyo at times feels like people-watching. And, like people watching, it all amounts to a perplexing joy.
It's strangely relaxing to watch his visually vibrant and animated characters bring color to such banalities as eating soup and ham. If you've watched Howl's Moving Castle and the delicious scene of Howl cooking bacon and eggs, then you've seen Miyazaki do this before. The man has an eye for the small details of life. This is not to say that the movie is not forward moving. There are some semblances of Western story telling. For instance, Ponyo's father who is not particularly fond of humans is constantly seeking out Ponyo to bring her back home. However, as dramatic as this may be, it's marginal to the rest of the story. Miyazaki is less interested in the need for conflict and more interested in those unexplainable things that draw two people to each other.
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