Reviews: Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea
Doesn't stand out, but still worth seeing.
The soundtrack was amazing, the fact that Liam Neeson's voice was in the American version was very cool, it had the classic nature themes of Miyazaki's other works, and the animation and general art direction was great. Although the storyline was touching, I found myself getting kind of bored towards the middle. (I also remember being kind of concerned at just how happy everyone seemed to be throughout the movie.) I say watch it, It is worth seeing at least once.
Doesnt Mesure Up
Miyazaki's been slumping since his last great film, Spirited Away. Howls was pretty good, but not great, and Ponyo decends even further into the realm of inadaquecy, and comes with a whole mess of holes. Just because the film is aimed at kids doesnt mean that the adults in it suddenly have license to not question anything that happens, no matter how bizzare. Why even did Sosuke's mom want to get home so bad only to leave and get back to her job? Was that just an excuse for a car chase? While Ponyo acts like a five year old, I dont beleive that Sosuke is at all, "responsible" five year old or no. And I KNOW Miyazaki can write little kids well, just look at how convincing the children from Tororo were! Fujimoto, the token villain, has a contradictory goal of destroying the world because its evil and polluted, but apparently doesnt want to do it right NOW. And to be honest, it doesnt hold a lot of cleverness in visual style. The startoff is gorgeous, and the sight of Fujimoto's "weed killer" hose thing is just brilliant, and there are still those little touches with movement that really catch you. But as the film wears on holes start to pop up in the patchwork, the story and the style get more convulted, generic, repetitive, and the whole idea starts to wobble a little. Ponyo's mom actually scared me more than her dad when she's supposed to instill a sense of awe. Kids movie does not mean excuse to be sloppy, and this is definitly one of Miyazaki's weakest films, both visually and story-wise.
The film that made me love Miyazaki films
When I first saw Ponyo, I had seen exactly one other Miyazaki film (Spirited Away, which I had thought was interesting but hard to connect with). I have since seen all of Miyazaki's films, and I have to say that my initial impression still holds: Ponyo is my favorite Miyazaki film (although it has some definite competition from My Neighbor Totoro now). What makes me love Ponyo so much? The fact that I connected with it on a very key level. This is a film which encapsulates early childhood and the wonder associated with it so perfectly that it's hard to imagine how any media could hope to do better at it. What sets it apart from its next best competition (Totoro) is that it does not go the obvious route of placing the characters in obvious peril which strips the characters of their innocence and can only be resolved by supernatural means. Rather, it sets up a scenario where the lead characters aren't even aware of the danger they're in, and don't really understand it even when they're told about what it means. They don't have their innocence destroyed by the circumstances, but rather preserved by them. It's a tale that celebrates childhood instead of focusing on childhood's end, and that elevates it immensely in my eyes. I can honestly say that I don't take issue with anything in the movie. It has a few small mistakes across certain scenes, and the pacing is inconsistent between the two halves of the film (which is nothing new for Miyazaki), but none of that bothers me. I can put aside such petty criticisms in light of the fact that the movie speaks to me on a level that few other films dare to: it glorifies childhood, yet respects my intelligence as well. It makes me remember the joys of youth without darkening those memories with a loss of innocence on the characters' behalf. And that makes all the difference.
Miyazaki's weakest film
In all of Miyazaki's films, there are a few common themes, something that distinguishes the films. Of the more important ones is strong character development. In Princess Mononoke San accepts her humanity. In Spirited away, Chihiro grows to be confident. I could list more examples. However, in Ponyo, who changes? Who grows? No one! Everyone is exactly the same at the beginning of the movie as at the end, with the exception of the wizard dad, who accepts his daughter's decision. I finished the movie without any sense of accomplishment on the part of the characters. Now, I can accept this as a children's film, but in trying to appeal to a wider audience, the movie fails.
Great film, regardless of how old you are.
At one point it occurred to me, I was watching five year olds eat soup and it was somehow the most awesome thing ever. This is a kids move that every kids movie should be compared too, it makes the simplest acts worth watching somehow, but still has suspenseful moments sprinkled throughout to keep things interesting. My only criticism is that there isnít much of a climax. The outcome of the movie isnít really in doubt for anyone outside the target demographic of the film. Even with no surprises in the plot, the visuals and depth of the characters are more than enough to overcome any shortcomings. Ponyo is a great film to watch regardless of age, and something that should be in movie collection for every child.
Hayao Miyazaki manages to wow his audiences yet again. The opening is simply breathtaking; the operatic score swells just as the viewer is hit with this overwhelming underwater paradise, teeming with life. The effect is somewhat akin to the opening to Finding Nemo when we see the bustling coral reefs for the first time. Ponyo actually surpasses it. It is here that we are introduced to Ponyo, an adorable and wayward fish/mermaid that runs away from her father to experience the human World. Swiftly she becomes besotted with a five year old boy and chooses to become human, upsetting the balance of nature and spelling disaster for all mankind. The film obstinately refuses to resort to CGI; everything is hand drawn. This proves especially effective about half way in, with this epic scene of Ponyo bowling along the top of a tsunami, all the while, a Wagner inspired score booms out something akin to Ride of the Valkyries. It had this troper blubbering like a little girl. Unfortunately, the film starts to lose momentum after the first half. The plot grows thin whilst the supernatural elements become increasingly vague and difficult to understand. Meanwhile, the ending is abrupt and leaves plenty of questions unanswered. Despite this, the story never loses its charm and I wholeheartedly recommend this picture to everyone. Fans of Studio Ghibli and will not be disappointed.