The latest film offering from Japan’s Studio Ghibli remains true to the ethos of animator Hayao Miyazaki, whose films, including Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, have fans numbering in their millions. With a screenplay based loosely on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, Ponyo is a simple, beautiful film full of invention and love.
It seems every school holidays brings another step-change in animation – complex multi-layered story-lines with surprisingly adult dialogue, or cutting-edge CGI or 3D. But rather than suffer by comparison with its old-fashioned hand-draw animations and sweet and familiar storyline, Ponyo is a refreshing experience for animation fans of all ages. Opening with a fantastical underwater sequence, we meet the enigmatic Fujimoto, a sorcerer of sorts who has turned his back on mankind and its polluting ways and lives among, and for, the marine world. The Goddess of the Sea has blessed him with a family of hundreds of fish, the most inquisitive of whom is Ponyo. As he goes about his work, Ponyo’s exploring gets her in trouble, and she finds herself trapped in bottle and swept to shore in the net of a fishing trawler.
Young Sosuke lives in a house on a cliff overlooking the sea. He rescues Ponyo by smashing the bottle and cuts his finger, and when Ponyo kisses his injury and heals it, the taste of human blood activates the sorcerer within her, and she transforms into a human child. In doing so, however, she creates an imbalance in the world and threatens its destruction. Miyazake’s screenplay has a strong environmental theme, as well as a commendable emphasis on family and community, but sweet though it is, it isn’t the drawcard. It is the animation, a riot of imagination that makes this a memorable experience. His antediluvian underwater creatures are gorgeous, a world removed from Finding Nemo, his sweeping tides and smashing tsunamis are a patchwork of colour and technique.
Folks looking to take their kids will want to know that at Hoyts cinemas around town you can see the dubbed version with voice-work from the likes of Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Liam Neeson and the Jonas Brothers, who I am told do fine work, but purists like myself will see the subtitled original language version at the Dendy.