Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Ponyo on the Cliff (2010)


Plot Summary: An animated adventure centred on a 5-year-old boy and his relationship with a goldfish princess who longs to become human.

Since the terrible miss-fire that was Tales from Earthsea (directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro) Studio Ghibli has had a lot to answer for. Thankfully Ponyo, which was released way back in 2008 in Japan, is a strong return to form and is a timely reminder of the magical animation the studio is capable of. Many critics would have you believe that this is a merely ‘kid’s film’, but that is to miss the point entirely. Hayao Miyazaki has oft been quoted as stating that his films are not exclusively for children, but also for the child inside of adults. Taken on these terms Ponyo reveals itself to audiences, child and adult alike, as a beautiful display of the human capability for creativity and imagination.

Story-wise, Ponyo is essentially The Little Mermaid by way of Miyazaki. Unlike the Disney version however, and as standard for the director, there is little threat from an antagonist and the film moves at a much slower, relaxed pace. This slow pace allows the audience to really connect with the two main characters. For example one prolonged scene (which also happens to be one of the films finest) simply depicts a meal on a rainy evening but helps to create real, rounded representations of children and their interaction with each other. The film is highly entertaining from start to finish due to its lovable characters, uniquely enjoyable moments and striking visuals. In terms of themes, the familiar Miyazaki trademarks centred on the environment and the nature of family unites are present and correct but never threaten to overthrow the concise but thoroughly touching narrative.

What really makes Ponyo stand out is its breathtaking animation. In designing the look of the film Miyazaki seemingly took inspiration from another Studio Ghibli film, My Neighbors the Yamadas, in terms of its pastel colours and sketch-like character design. This results in a visual style which fits the aquatic theme and the more playful and relaxed tone of the film. Technically, the animation is outstanding. Two scenes spring to mind which actually shocked me in terms of their attention to detail (an early underwater scene in which literally hundreds of individually animated species of fish roam the ocean) and sense of movement and fluidity (a later scene in which Ponyo runs in and out of a raging sea storm of giant fish).

The images on display here really help to capture a true sense of childlike wonder and innocence rarely seen in contemporary animation. If I have any gripe about Ponyo, it would be that although I enjoyed the tone of the film, it still feels a little too lightweight. Even My Neighbor Totoro, which most closely resembles Ponyo in terms of its childlike outlook and atmosphere, dealt with a difficult subject underneath the surface (a father that works away from home hardly compares to dealing with the loss of your mother). Additionally, even though Ghibli films are notorious for having unconventional narrative structures, the ending to Ponyo felt a little melodramatic and awkward in comparison to the rest of the film. Nevertheless, Ponyo is a great addition to the Ghibli cannon and is highly recommended to anyone who is willing to tap into their childhood imagination and relish a time before taxes and housework.

Final Verdict: 8/10


Robert Beames said...

Nice review Dennis. Similar to mine, but then, if you will steal, steal from the best.

I bought a new Ghibli film the other day: "Ocean Waves". Have you seen it? It's only just been released here apparently (although it's a made-for-TV film like "The Cat Returns" with no name director). I haven't seen it yet, but I'm excited.

Ginger Ranger said...

Thanks brew. Lol you're wishing I read yours before I wrote mine. :P I hadn't heard of Ocean Waves but I looked it up and it seems interesting enough.