It’s a rare thing when Walt Disney Studios put the film they acquire rather than generate in wide release. That alone could perhaps warrant a viewing of its latest such acquisition, “Ponyo.” The movie itself is a much better reason.
“Ponyo” tells the story of a young goldfish with an adventurous spirit. While her father, a human water wizard, wants to keep her in the ocean where he can look after all of his children, she’s determined to explore. And explore she does.
She goes to the surface where she’s found by a little boy. Ponyo love being with the humans, but there’s only so much she can do with them as a fish.
Her father is certain the surface is too much for her. He retrieves her, only to have her escape again. Only this time, her love for her newfound friend has given her the ability to grow limbs, then lungs and the progression continues.
Ponyo’s parents ultimately decide to see if their daughter’s love can keep her in the human world, where she will be happy yet out of their reach. To complicate this test, the boy’s mother, who has just taken her in, becomes trapped by a storm that the kids must brave through to help her.
If this sounds adventurous, that’s because it is, and what child doesn’t love that. Besides that, it’s completely relatable. This is a simple story about universal family themes, the friendship between children, people’s responsibility to family and duty and parental angst over the values they instill in their children.
The movie was made by Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, who is no stranger to having his films dubbed for American screens. He’s even less of a stranger to cresting truly fantastical adventures. Miyazaki has a talent for creating colorful worlds that are genuinely thrilling without the need for excessive high speeds or computer imaging. Of course, there are plenty of fast-paced moments, and excitement is never a problem here.
He gives us a quaint look at animation. To compare, Disney’s upcoming “The Princess and the Frog” also uses two-dimensional rendering but does so in a more-sophisticated, enhanced way that audiences here expect.
Not to mention, “Ponyo’s” all-star American cast wasn’t there for the original soundtrack, but they deliver. Not to mention all of the character talk very subtly and sparsely, even when they’re excited. It’s fascinating just ignoring the lip-synching and looking at how they speak.
Children will love this movie, and it’s a great one to expose them to. Besides the abovementioned morals, it’s full of magic and humor. Keep in mind though, that it wasn’t shot for an American audience. At first, kids that are only used to seeing perfectly-dubbed and smoothly-drawn animation might find this frustrating, but they’ll get into the fantasy world they’re seeing quickly. There have even been gasps in the theater when the danger mounts. Besides, this could be a new vision to them, something they haven’t had a lot of exposure to. That makes the viewing a risk, but that’s part of the fun of film.