Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Ponyo

Film #290

THE PLOT

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

Year 1, Day 295

BEFORE: This is the second to last in the Hayao Miyazaki chain but is his last directed film, Ponyo. It was released way back in 2008 (that’s five years ago already) and has an all-star cast for the English dub including Tina Fey, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchette lending their voices. As I briefly mentioned yesterday, without knowing anything about the story or the film itself, it seems to be in line with films like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service as opposed to my favorites Castle in the Sky and Howl’s Moving Castle. I remain however, optimistic as always for what’s in store.

AFTER: Two in a row for Hayao Miyazaki. Ponyo is another display of his utter brilliance in a masterful combination of both visual animation style and a well-told, compelling, and astonishing story. For comparison, Ponyo had the spirit of the films like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service (read: more character-centered) while having the appeal and pull of Castle in the Sky and Howl’s Moving Castle.

There are a lot of similarities between Ponyo and Miyazaki’s previous works, as expected, which makes my job here easy. Visually, I found this film to not be as vivid and rich as Howl’s Moving Castle was but it was awfully close. The range of color and the sense of depth you get from how the animation is structured, spatially that is, is still quite large. In terms of story, I wouldn’t necessarily call this his most bizarre premise; the suspension of disbelief required isn’t that large. Nor is it that confusing or mysterious, qualities which I had been looking for in the others and which made the two “Castle” films stand out. Nonetheless, Ponyo still amazed, just in a different way than I was expecting and one which could have helped films like Totoro out tremendously - these characters were the most alive out of any I’ve seen so far in this chain. Sōsuke (Frankie Jonas) and his mother Lisa (Tina Fey) are instant classics in my mind. The funniest and most memorable scene in the film for me was when they communicated through light signals to the father, Kōichi (Matt Damon), who’s out at sea. It represents the best in the film: great humor, incredibly detailed universe, and beautifully written characters.

Given all my positive words it may shock you that I debated with myself a long time with what to give this film. Despite these wonderful words, there were some less than stellar moments in the film. Most notably the apparent unimportance of two important characters, Fujimoto (Liam Neeson) and the Mother of the Sea (Cate Blanchett). They are pivotal to the story, yet are missing for large portions of the film. However, I decided to look past this because, not only did the other elements of the outweigh this annoyance, but it really doesn’t matter. In fact, the absence of Fujimoto and the Mother of the Sea probably helped further strengthen characters like Sōsuke and Ponyo (Noah Cyrus). Overall, much different from the other Miyazaki films I liked, much very deserving to be listed amongst his best work.

RATING: 5 out of 5