Sunday, March 25, 2018

REVIEW: Ponyo (anime movie)

Normally when I hear about Fathom Events showings I'd like to go to, the closest ones are at least an hour and a half away. Not this time. The movie theater in my town is doing Studio Ghibli Fest, one Studio Ghibli movie a month with three showings (2 English dub, 1 English subtitles). I'm so happy! I'll probably skip Grave of the Fireflies because I don't like crying in public, but I plan on seeing all the rest of them. Spirited Away is a particular favorite of mine, so if my schedule permits, I plan on attending both a dubbed and subbed showing of that one.

This month's movie is Ponyo, and today was the first of three showings, one of the English dub ones. I had not seen it before and wasn't really sure what to expect.

Warning: this review includes spoilers.


Sosuke, a 5-year-old boy who lives in a little fishing town, finds and rescues Ponyo, a goldfish with a human face. The two quickly become friends, but they can't stay together - Ponyo's father is looking for her and is determined to keep her with him forever. A magical goldfish girl living with a human boy would disturb the balance of nature and potentially threaten all life everywhere.

This was...muddled. I thought it was at least so-so, up until it was suddenly shoehorned into the position of being a (sorta kinda) Little Mermaid adaptation. It had the usual features I like in Studio Ghibli films: friendship, a sense of wonder, the beauty and power of nature, environmental aspects (only briefly brought up, despite this being the driving force behind Ponyo's father's actions), etc. Sosuke's hometown was lovely, as were the ocean scenes, but my favorite parts were probably the shots of various prehistoric fish. Although I thought Ponyo and Sosuke's friendship developed overly quickly, it didn't bug me too much since they were both only about 5 years old. Sosuke's joy at finding Ponyo and figuring out how to take care of her was cute, and I laughed when Sosuke's mom, angry that her husband wasn't coming home that evening like he said he would, used a signal light to repeatedly tell him to "bug off."

When Ponyo's father found her and took her back to their home, I thought this might turn out to be a movie about an over-protective, overly controlling father who has to learn to let go and let his daughter be her own person. The movie preview indicated that Ponyo would need to save the world and restore the balance of nature, and parts of the beginning of the movie made it sound like there'd be an environmental thread to the story.

The environmental thread was dropped almost as quickly as it was introduced, and the whole "saving the world and restoring nature's balance" aspect was disappointing. Ponyo being both a magical goldfish girl and a human threw nature out of balance. In order to restore the balance, she had to either be a magical goldfish girl or a human. Being both was not an option. There was no question in her mind about what she wanted to do - she loved Sosuke and wanted to become a human girl. Her complete lack of worry or sadness over the thought of losing her life in the ocean, magic, and possibly all future contact with her siblings and parents was jarring - yes, she's a child and might not have been fully aware of the consequences, but still.

Since she knew what she wanted, that just left Sosuke, who Ponyo's mother and father decided to test. I honestly expected the "test" to be a bigger deal than it was. Supposedly Sosuke had to prove that he really loved Ponyo. I'm not sure how he managed this, aside from once again saying that he loved Ponyo, but Ponyo's parents accepted this and everyone was happy. I thought that there might be a scene where Sosuke would have to risk his life for Ponyo, or maybe find Ponyo in a crowd of her sisters (reminiscent of one of the later scenes in Spirited Away), but instead he didn't actually do much of anything. Sosuke's mother seemed perfectly happy to have suddenly acquired a second child, and who cares about the surprise her husband would be getting once he finally arrived home.

Ponyo had a lot of potential but fell apart in the end. I'll probably re-watch it with subtitles at some point to see if my feelings about it have changed after a bit more time to think, but at the moment it definitely isn't going on my list of Studio Ghibli favorites.

All that said, I think small children would love this. I can't recall anything in the way of scenes that could be considered frightening, and I imagine most kids would get a kick out of all the magical scenes, like Ponyo running on the waves and transforming Sosuke's boat, without the drawback of an adult brain butting in with thoughts like "Wow, Sosuke's mom is a terrifying driver."

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