Sitting in the theatre as the previews flashed across the screen, I realised I had no idea what I was about to watch. I knew that Ponyo was the newest Miyazaki film and that in itself meant that I was in for something special. I’ve seen most of his previous movies and have a real love for Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky and Castle of Cogliostro in particular. Someone had mentioned that this was Miyazaki’s version of the Little Mermaid, hadn’t they?
Well coming out of the movie I was pretty surprised. The first half of the movie had been great! More than half the movie as a matter of fact! The characters all held such promise and the plot and the elements in play all sang right off the screen, but within the last fifteen minutes something happened… or rather didn’t. Nothing happened! While the bulk of the movie felt like a big set up for some spectacular climax to unfold, nothing unfolded and instead we’re given a shoddy cliff’s notes ending and a pat on the head as we walk out of the theatre.
Ponyo is the name of a little fish-type girl who escapes from her father’s watchful eye and meets a little boy named Sosuke. She decides that she wants to become human and promptly sprouts arms and feet. Of course this isn’t natural and so the world is put out of balance, causing the waters to flood and the moon to fall closer to the Earth.
This is a great set up. But by the final reel there is no conflict to address. All is right in the world and even the love story of the two children seems forced and uninvolved for the audience. There are sub plots that include Sosuke’s parents who are having marital trouble due to his father’s absence on his boat all the time and having to break his word. This too is simply forgotten about by the end of the movie and all is well.
So although the animation is everything one would look for in a Studio Ghibli film and the sound effects are all brilliant to behold, this feels like only half a film. What is good in the movie is great, but the missing parts would have completed it.
Also to it’s credit and as is usually the case with a Miyazaki movie, Ponyo comes equipped with a star studded group of celebs to dub the movie. Names that include, Tina Fey, Betty White, Liam Neeson, etc.