I have always loved animated movies, from the glory days of Disney to the modern classics produced like clockwork by Pixar, however, I had yet to discover the magic that is the animation from Hayao Miyazaki, who is responsible for such critically acclaimed films as Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. A few months ago (yes, I am VERY far behind in my reviews) I was able to remedy that glaring deficiency in my movie viewing history.
Ponyo is a literal "fish out of water" story, almost a modern, albeit a different cultural, re-telling of the Little Mermaid, which happens to be the first movie I actually remember seeing in the movie theater when I was about 5. Miyazaki's version is incredibly bright, colorful, and brimming with a childlike innocence that has almost abandoned modern children's films, probably because they feel the need to amuse the parents with hidden innuendos. Ponyo will entertain anyone with it's vivid visual style and impeccable story telling. This story centers around a young goldfish whose father is a scientist that lives under the sea, and whose mother is some sort of goddess of the sea. She rebelliously sneaks away from her father's ship and wanders near shore where a young boy scoops her out of the shallow water. Because she accidentally activated some magical potion back on the ship, she begins to turn into a little human girl upon reaching dry land. The story isn't new, but is told in such a fresh way that it is far from stale.
One major difference I noticed from more traditional American narratives is that there isn't really a true "bad guy" in Ponyo. There are some tense, even frightening moments to be sure, but the lack of an antagonist was strangely new and refreshing. It almost reminds me of the Brave Little Toaster in the way that it centers more around the adventure than a specific conflict, although Ponyo is definitely more light hearted. Another interesting difference is that Ponyo is a Japanese film, and thus originally voiced in Japanese. However, the US release features an expensive dubbing overhaul, bringing in voice talents such as Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, and Liam Neeson. Usually I'm not a fan of dubbing in any form, but they definitely did a good job with Ponyo.
This year has been incredible for animated films, with Coraline, Up, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (I'll write about that one soon hopefully!), but Ponyo stands out as a much different experience, and an experience well worth having.