Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Ponyo

Ponyo. Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

Preconceptions: I'm a big Miyazaki fan and it was only the hurly burly of day to day life that kept me from seeing this movie in the theaters, not lack of desire to see it (going to movies alone holds no fear for me, not even to kids movies). I've heartily enjoyed all of the rest of his filmography and didn't expect this to be any different.

General Review: What? Another kids movie, you ask? And a Disney movie, at that? Don't be fooled, my cupcakes, much like Spirited Away this is a Miyazaki movie that's just being brought to America by Disney. And yes, it's still a kids movie, but Miyazaki knows what I like: adorable little horrors having adventures.

His movies have something else I like: complicated villains. Even the ones that are trying to destroy all of humanity or who've taken a serious dislike to our hero have sensible reasons for what they're doing. These flicks give the watching children more credit than most movies do, presenting them with some moral ambiguity. While I found this in books pretty early on, I don't remember being faced with it in cinema until I was well into my teens. I think it's probably good for developing brains to be forced to deal with antagonists that aren't twirling their mustaches.

While Fujimoto (voiced by Liam Neeson) isn't the best example of this in Miyazaki's flicks, he does represent something else that is more complicated than usual kid's fare: he is a father who's unwilling to let his children grow up. I mean, he's keeping them in a glass bowl (his kids are fish, and while we see their mum and she doesn't appear to be a fish, it does make me wonder about their conception). But, because this is Miyazaki, it isn't quite as simple as that, his daughter trying to grow up (and turn into a human) is also causing some catastrophic events. So it isn't even just a father being overprotective.

I'd also like to take a moment to enjoy how good the voice acting was in this. I remember the dark days when to see a cool anime (or Japanamation as it was called at the time) you'd have to sit through some right terrible voice acting (when you couldn't find the subtitled versions). Now the translation to English basically always comes with the pile of voice actors and the occasional screen actor. For all the crap I've just given Disney, this was well done. Noah Cyrus (yes, Billy Ray's other kid) was particularly worth noticing. I wasn't sure what to expect when I thought "magical fish sorta like the little mermaid" voice, but she nailed it, squealing for ham and all. Tina Fey was so good I didn't even realize it was her (and I just finished watching some 6 hours of 30 Rock). I also enjoyed Betty White as Yoshie, she's got a great voice and (to flagrantly steal a joke) as the last remaining Golden Girl is a national treasure.

I will say, that despite all my raving, this isn't Miyazaki's best work story wise. There is a lot of wandering around not having adventures or really being set back. Forging ahead was all Ponyo and Sosuke (the little boy helping his fishy friend) needed to do in this, not be particularly clever or brave. Plodding away doesn't make for great drama. The stunning visuals saved the meandering from being dull (and swapping animation styles to show the wavering look of being under water was really cool), but even they couldn't sharpen up the uninspiring climax. Throughout the story we're promised that Sosuke will have to prove his love for Ponyo in a dangerous test and that there would be dire consequences if he failed. (**If you don't wish to be spoiled, please skip the next paragraph**)

What was this big test? Saying that he'd love her (so I guess that means more fish children in future generations). That's it. No proof of love, no daring do, just a quick sentence and everything is all fixed. I'm not even sure if this can be called a climax, I think I'm going to call it the fizzle. With the fizzle of the movie taken care of everything goes back to normal and Ponyo becomes a little girl for real.

If you haven't seen a Miyazaki movie before, don't start with this one (go see Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away instead), it's pretty good and absolutely gorgeous, but it isn't the best of its kind either. If you've liked some of his other flicks, chances are good you'll enjoy this one as well.

Random Thoughts: Ponyo probably didn't have the best fish care advice I've ever seen in a movie. The fish spends a lot of time being petted and flapping out of the water (I wonder how many goldfish this has effected?).

1 comment:

  1. i bought this souly because it was by who it was. i watched it with a year old sister and now she can't get enough of Miyazaki's movies (i can't show her Mononoke Hime due to the rating though).i agree it isn't his best but it is still a fun moive.