Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Featuring the voices of Noah Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Liam Neeson, and Cate Blanchett. Rated G.
From My Neighbor Totoro to Spirited Away and beyond, anime master Hayao Miyazaki has been building magic kingdoms of his own. Even if they are carried by the Disney people on this continent, with familiar voices subbing for the originals, there’s nothing Mickey Mouse about his epic films.
Watch the trailer for Ponyo.
With Ponyo, the writer-director returns to simpler themes, although complexity is found in the hand-coloured design and execution of this fable, which carries strains of Jules Verne and Hans Christian Andersen, along with some Buddhist twists.
The title comes from the name given to a fish (Noah Cyrus, sister of Miley) by Sosuke (Frankie Jonas, yet another Jonas bro), a five-year-old boy she encounters. Ponyo yearns to become an actual girl, against the strenuous objections of her father (Liam Neeson), who has great powers over the sea. In the most thrilling sequence, the ocean rises in the form of gigantic blue fish, and Ponyo crosses their backs in search of Sosuke.
The boy’s dad (Matt Damon) is an absent sea captain, while his unusually reckless mom (Tina Fey) works at a nursing home with colourful old-timers (Betty White, Cloris Leachman, and Lily Tomlin). Their own house is high on a cliff that, in a quietly beautiful sequence, becomes a flood-encircled island from which the boy and his new friend launch a journey fraught with vague symbols, culminating in an encounter with Ponyo’s mother, a sea goddess (Cate Blanchett).
Miyazaki seems to be pleading with humanity to recognize the innate value in all living things. But what really sticks is his profound ability to spirit us back to the inner feelings of early childhood, when magic was real and parents were whimsically flawed gods.