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Anime / Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

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"Ponyo, Ponyo, Ponyo - fishy in the sea!
Tiny little fishy, who could you really be?
Ponyo, Ponyo, Ponyo - magic sets you free!
Oh she's a little girl with a round tummy!"

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (Gake no Ue no Ponyo) is a 2008 film by anime master Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Very, very loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen story The Little Mermaid, the movie follows the adventures of Ponyo, a sort of...goldfishy thing, and her quest to become human and be with the boy she loves.

In comparison with Miyazaki's other works, this is a return to his more whimsical, Slice of Life movies such as My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service. Another useful note is that also like Totoro, it is more influenced by American animated films unlike most Miyazaki movies, which are more influenced by French animated films. It is also the studio's first film in years not to feature any CGI, being completely hand-drawn.

The Disney dub of Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea received a U.S. theatrical release in August 2009 under the abbreviated title Ponyo (after being initially marketed as Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea). It is the highest-grossing Miyazaki movie in North America, and the sixth highest-grossing anime film of all time. On March 2, 2010, Disney released it on DVD and Blu-ray. GKIDS re-released it, along with five other Ghibli titles on October 17, 2017.

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea contains examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob: We have Brunhilde (Ponyo), Fujimoto, Granmamare, Lisa and Sosuke.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Ponyo's mother Granmammare is apparently the personification of the sea. She is also an archetype, the Great Mother.
  • Apparently Human Merfolk: Fujimoto.
    • It's specified that he Was Once a Man but he now breathes underwater and can't survive on the surface without constantly spraying himself with seawater.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Granted, Ponyo isn't an ordinary sea creature, but normally putting sea creatures in fresh water is deadly to them.
  • Badass Driver: Lisa. Calculates the exact moment between two waves when the road will not be flooded and then gets the car safely across. Later goes out in the night to check on the people in the Old People's Home. See also Drives Like Crazy.
  • Bad Moon Rising: Ponyo's fiddling with magic somehow brings the moon closer to Earth and drawing the tides way too high.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Granmamare is one BIG magic lady. Crosses over with Statuesque Stunner when she shrinks down to a more human-ish height.
  • Big Eater: One of Miyazaki's Creator Thumbprints. Ponyo managed (in fish form) to gobble down a piece of ham as big as she was.
  • Blood Magic: Drinking human blood gives Ponyo the ability to become human too.
  • Blush Sticker: Both Sosuke and Ponyo sport them after The Glomp.
  • A Boy and His X: Played straight at first with Sosuke and his goldfish until she becomes human.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Fujimoto mentions that he was once a human himself before he aligned with the oceans, making his anti-human endeavors a case of this.
  • Bullet Time: Sosuke running from Fujimoto with Ponyo across the fence, culminating in them leaping towards Toki's outstretched arms, is shot like this. Mostly Played for Laughs, as it emphasizes her once again getting absolutely drenched
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Sosuke addresses his mother as Lisa and father as Koichi. (In the English Dub he calls her Mom instead.) This may be a reflection of Lisa as a free spirit or cool mom, as they seem to have a very strong bond.
  • Catchphrase:
    Fujimoto: This is bad. This is very bad.
  • Cheerful Child: Sosuke. Ponyo, even more so.
  • Children Are Innocent: Her father wishes she could remain so forever, and later objects to testing Sosuke because he is so innocent.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Being completely alien to human life, Ponyo acts like an overexcited 5-year-old, which she pretty much is, when living with Sosuke. An overexcited five-year-old who accidentally floods a heavily populated island just to see that cute boy she likes again...
  • Company Cross References: There are several references to fellow Studio Ghibli film My Neighbor Totoro. For example, there's a Totoro magnet on the refrigerator in Sosuke's house, and at one point Lisa sings a line from Totoro's opening song ("I'm happy as can be!").
  • Cosy Catastrophe: The dramatic rise of sea levels is mostly treated as a reason to have an extended picnic.
  • The Cynic: Fujimoto, who (understandably) cannot get past the pollution thing enough to be optimistic about anything where humans are involved.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Fujimoto's minions appear as darker, sentient pools of water with eyes in them, but Fujimoto himself isn't so much as evil as he is tired of humanity's disregard of nature and their actions.
  • Declaration of Protection:
    Sosuke: Don't worry Ponyo, I will always protect you. I promise.
  • Deus ex Machina: In the classical sense to boot! At the end Granmammare comes along to save the day, resolve the plot, and give a happy ending.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Ponyo goes barefoot for nearly the entire film. "Nearly" because the rest of the time she's a fish.
    • Sosuke is barefoot for most of the movie, including almost the entire second half of it.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": Ponyo did not originally have that name, being called that by Sosuke. When Fujimoto refers to her by her original name Brunhilde, she doesn't like it since she's become attached enough to Sosuke not to care.
    Ponyo: My name is not Brunhilde, it's Ponyo!
  • Drives Like Crazy: Lisa, crossed with Badass Driver, doesn't exactly follow road safety laws at times.
  • "Everybody Helps Out" Denouement: After the flood, the towns people form a boat convoy / Sosuke's parents, the goddess of the sea, the wizard and the residents of the retirement home get together to bring the movie to a resolution.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly: Subverted. The two somewhat off looking characters are Toki (one of the old woman at the retirement home) and Fujimoto. But the Old woman is just kinda cranky and Fujimoto certainly isn't evil. Just overworked and wanting his daughter back.
  • Fantastic Medicinal Bodily Product: Ponyo heals Sosuke's wound by licking it.
  • Fish out of Water: Literally with Ponyo, though she actually adjusts fairly quickly to life on land (besides just being very odd).
  • First-Name Basis: Sosuke with his own parents. (Not in the dub, though.)
  • Fisher King: Ponyo sets the world out of order when she is neither magic nor human.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Lisa. She accepts Ponyo pretty easily, works with the elderly, and even defends weeds from (suspected) pesticides.
  • Genki Girl: Ponyo, especially after gaining human form, is just a ball of unsuppressed energy until use of magic tires her out.
  • Gigantic Moon: The moon becomes massive in the sky as it comes so close to earth.
  • Gratuitous Japanese: The English dub preserves a few Japanese Honorifics that have "loanword" status ["-san," mostly, and "sensei"], possibly to help enforce the fact that this takes place in Japan.
  • Gonk:
    • Ponyo, particularly in her frog/chicken form, though this crosses over into Ugly Cute.
    • The baby, in a notable aversion of Generic Cuteness.
  • Green Aesop: Although not entirely: the point seems to be that despite pollution, humans are NOT bastards — at least not individually.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Though in a much more Lighter and Softer manner. Both sides are decent people but aren't without flaws. Fujimoto is rather extreme in his methods, at one point putting Sosuke's life in danger. But he ultimately just wants his daughter back and for the ocean to not be polluted. He even argues that Sosuke is too young to be tested by Granmammare. And while none of the Humans aren't malicious, we do litter a lot.
  • Handy Feet: Ponyo's feet act like hands. One scene has her toes wiggle very much like fingers, while Sosuke attempts to do the same to no avail.
  • Happily Married: Fujimoto and Granmamare.
    • Also Lisa and Kouichi.
  • Helicopter Parents: Fujimoto all the way, insisting on keeping Ponyo in her small fish form to keep her away from the humans. He eventually lets this go.
  • Help, I'm Stuck!: Ponyo is stuck in a glass bottle from which Sosuke has to free her.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: A more platonic example, though Ponyo is all Sosuke can think about upon meeting said red-headed fish.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Subverted and deconstructed. Fujimoto is resentful towards humans for polluting the sea, yet when Ponyo falls in love with Sosuke he is forced to rethink. By the end he sees how, despite doing some messed up stuff as a whole, humans individually can be nice guys. Probably not incidentally, Ponyo's first encounter with humans is a trawling ship cleaning up junk and sludge from the ocean.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    Lisa: Well. That guy was a freak show. But don't you call people "freak show". We never judge people by their looks.
    Sosuke: ...I know, Mom, I don't.
  • Instant Taste Addiction: Ponyo is fed the ham from Sosuke's sandwich, and immediately it becomes her favorite food to the point that Sosuke tells his mother that "all she thinks about is ham."
  • Insult of Endearment: When Koichi tells Lisa that he will not be able to return home, she types out "BUG OFF" in Morse code back at him.
  • Interspecies Romance: Ponyo the goldfish-youkai-thing and Sosuke the human, also Fujimoto the ambiguous humanoid youkai-creature and Granmamare the goddess.
  • Invisible to Normals: Only children can see that the waves have eyes... And only a single one of the elderly ladies seems at all confused at the fact that Sosuke's goldfish has a human head.
  • Iris Out: The movie ends on this effect over Ponyo floating in the air above Sosuke.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Fujimoto strongly dislikes humans but mainly just wants to ensure Ponyo's safety and happiness.
  • Kick the Dog: Fujimoto mentions offhandedly that he plans to eradicate human civilization by using magic to create a new era of sea life. This is quickly derailed by Ponyo in her eagerness to return to the surface. As a result, prehistoric fish appear (specifically Devonian, even though he mentions the Cambrian Explosion) but humanity goes on.
  • Kid-Appeal Character: Both Ponyo and Sosuke. The fact that they are both 5-year old children makes this film totally cute to watch.
  • Leitmotif: Ponyo, Fujimoto, and Granmamare are accompanied by instrumental renditions of their respective character songs (the film's main theme for Ponyo, "Fujimoto's Theme" for Fujimoto, and "Mother of the Sea" for Granmamare).
  • Licked by the Dog: If the personification of the sea and all sea life liked you enough to marry you, you're probably not that bad a person. They have a LOT of kids too. Ponyo's got to have at least fifty sisters!
  • Lighter and Softer: In America, fans were rather... surprised at how kid-friendly Ponyo is compared to the generally more all-ages/adult-skewing Studio Ghibli output.
  • Limited Wardrobe: In Fujimoto's room there hangs an identical blue and white striped jacket to the one he is already wearing. However, later in the film he changes to a red and white striped one.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Ponyo is a cutie when compared to her sickly looking father.
  • Magical Girlfriend: Ponyo is a toddler version of this to Sosuke.
  • Mama Bear: Lisa sure knows how to handle situations with danger, especially if her son's around. Although she's also the cause of a few dangerous situations herself (see Drives Like Crazy).
  • Mana Potion: When Fujimoto is trying to contain Ponyo inside a bubble, he says he needs more power and has to start drinking elixirs from several long-necked bottles before he can manage it.
  • Married to the Job: Sosuke's dad, which is a real sore spot with Lisa, which impacts the messages during the "signalling" sequence.
  • Meaningful Name: Granmamare. Basically means "Great Mother of the Sea" ("Mare" is "sea" in Latin).
  • Meaningful Rename: Ponyo from Brunhilde; her insistence on using the name Sosuke gave her reflects her desire to join him in the human world.
  • Mickey Mousing: Joe Hisaishi's music follows Ponyo's movements in a couple of scenes. This is unusual for Ghibli movies.
  • Mobile Fishbowl: Fujimoto is forced to take a back-mounted machine with him whenever he ventures onto dry land, as it carries a vat of salt water that he must spray around himself to keep himself humidified. Still, he is biologically human, which requires him to wear a bubble underwater.
  • No Endor Holocaust: Although Ponyo raised the water level high enough to drown almost all of Tomonoura, no harm seems to have been done to the town, its inhabitants, or any of the fishing ships nearby. The explanations are three-fold: 1. It's a kids' movie. 2. They're probably prepared for flooding, considering they live on an island. 3. The goddess of the sea was in an extremely nice mood that day. Though it's never shown or mentioned how the rest of the world is affected with the moon being too close and the tides risen up.
  • No Indoor Voice: Ponyo yells practically every line of dialogue; it's actually tuned down in the dub.
  • Non-Dubbed Grunts: During the scene where Fujimoto finds Ponyo and takes her back from Sosuke, when the latter runs into the water to search for Ponyo and Lisa sees him, her cry of "Sosuke!" (provided by Tomoko Yamaguchi) is kept from the Japanese version, as is Sosuke's crying (provided by Hiroki Doi) afterward.
  • No Social Skills: Ponyo doesn't "get" humans, and thus makes a lot of gaffes — like carrying a bucket and towel to the table, referring to sandwiches as "milk" as the result of a conversation with a breastfeeding mother, and others. She also doesn't understand that when water comes from people's eyes, that means they're sad.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Liam Neeson doesn't hide his Ballymena accent when he played Fujimoto in the English dub.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Ponyo's real name is Brunhilde. "Ponyo" is just the name Sosuke gives her. Her father doesn't exactly roll with it, but her mother likes it.
  • Otherworldly Visits Youngest First: This is done twice over. Sosuke is the first person to encounter the titular Ponyo, a rather unconventional mermaid. On the flip-side, Ponyo thinks of the surface world as a magical place, and she is the youngest of her sisters. Both sides quickly learn of the existence of the other when Ponyo decides to try and stay in the surface world.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Ponyo and her sisters resemble the traditional depictions of ningyo (mermaids) from Japanese folklore. Unlike European mermaids, they're basically fish with human faces (although the folkloric ones tend to be far more grotesque and monstrous). As Toki points out, catching one is indeed a sign of misfortune.
  • Parents as People:
    • Sosuke's parents both love him deeply but have other responsibilities outside of him. His mother is dedicated to her job at the senior center, gets frustrated enough with his father's absence to become despondent and need Sosuke's comfort, and drives like a maniac.
    • Ponyo's father is paranoid and overprotective, even if he does ultimately love Ponyo enough to let her make her own decision.
  • Partial Transformation: Ponyo has an intermediate, amphibian form between her fish- and humanlike forms. Except amphibians don't have chicken legs...
  • Person of Mass Destruction: Ponyo when trying to find Sosuke. Justified since she'd been doused in a powerful magic potion designed to create another spontaneous burst of sea-life, Cambrian Explosion-style. Despite plunging the town into the ocean, she doesn't appear to cause any casualties or even property damage, though. Impliedly, Fujimoto could be this as well.
  • Plucky Girl:
    • Ponyo, to the point of being the trope's page image; boisterous, unafraid of anything, and extremely powerful.
    • Lisa can be considered a grown-up version of the ones who always appear in Miyazaki movies: self-sufficient, optimistic, and fun-loving, even when faced with difficult circumstances. Think an adult Kiki.
  • Power of Love: Sosuke's love for Ponyo both turns her into a human and saves the whole world.
  • Production Throwback:
    • Fujimoto's ship looks like a boat crossed with a flaptor.
    • The old ladies' knick-knack shelf has a mini-bird god in it.
    • When Sosuke puts his captain's hat on he looks a lot like Mei and Satsuki's friend Kanta, or like a young version of Seita.
    • There's a Totoro magnet on the refrigerator in Sosuke's house, Lisa briefly sings a line from the opening song of the same movie ("I'm happy as can be!"), and Ponyo flashes Totoro's signature smile the first time she grows teeth.
    • When Sosuke and Ponyo traverse the flooded town, they come across a tunnel remarkably similar to the one in Spirited Away.
    • The little girl, Kumiko, who Ponyo drenches with water, resembles a young Kiki.
    • The family with the baby resemble Satsuki, Mei and their father from My Neighbor Totoro.
  • Puppy Love: Ponyo and Sosuke's relationship is discussed in terms of love, even though they're both five. The ending seems to imply they'll grow up as brother and sister.
  • Reality Warper: Ponyo (as implied by her dad), since she can cause a tsunami, bring the moon a couple thousand miles closer to earth with no ill effects. It's not quite clear whether that was her doing or a result of the magic from that well-thing that she accidentally set loose. Also Ponyo's mother, who can gather up all the ships in the sea to protect them from the tsunami.
  • Reset Button: The town looks as splendid as ever, considering it has been fully submerged by the ocean. Then again, the goddess of the sea was involved.
  • Respected by the Respected: Fujimoto is introduced as a powerful wizard / scientist. Then he goes to Granmamare for help.
  • Revolting Rescue: Sosuke accidentally cuts his finger on a rock, so Ponyo licks his wound and this instantly heals it, much to his amazement.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Ponyo herself when she's a fish and even when she's mid-transformation to becoming human. Ponyo's sisters, too, being just smaller versions of her fish form.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • Ponyo has three "stages" of transformation: fish, frog/amphibian thing, and human. When put in context with Fujimoto's talk of evolution and pre-history, Ponyo's speed evolution is a nice touch.
    • Ponyo's sisters breaking her out of her bubble look extremely similar to sperm cells having at an egg.
    • It's not surprising that the movie is crowded with little girls, young mothers and elderly obaa-san, because they're all women at different stages of the life Ponyo desires.
  • Rummage Sale Reject: Fujimoto is rather fond of clown-like striped suits. Given the fact that he's several centuries old, he probably knows how ridiculous he looks to most people and just really doesn't care.
  • Running Gag: Ponyo and her love of "HAM!!!"
  • Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: Sosuke is considerably calmer and reserved than Ponyo.
  • Scenery Porn: It's a Studio Ghibli movie. Though it's a different flavor than usual, with backgrounds lovingly detailed with colored pencil while the character designs remain (mostly) simple throughout.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Somewhat unexpectedly, the movie also references The Ring of the Nibelung. Ponyo's original name is Brunhilde, and like the character of the same name from the opera, she's a supernatural being who defies her father and falls in love with a human. In case someone thought all this is coincidental, the connection is further emphasized when her leitmotif is orchestrated as a pastiche of the "Ride of the Valkyries" during the climactic tsunami scene.
  • Shown Their Work: The underwater life is pretty much an animated paleontology textbook. The kids recognize and name Dipnorhynchus, Bothriolepis, and Gogonasus. Trilobites and Opabinia can be seen in the opening, and just possibly a tardigrade
  • Skewed Priorities: As Doug Walker says in his review, when Sosuke's dad notices Ponyo running across the giant waves of fish, instead of seeing that she's the cause of the tsunami, all he remarks is that "She's about Sosuke's age."
  • Sleep Cute: Ponyo and Sosuke doze off on the sofa together.
  • Soft Water: Huge waves fell all over the city, but little apparent damage was wrought.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Uttered by the characters, though thankfully this storm is more of a setup for adventure than genuine danger.
  • Sunken City: Sosuke's village is completely submerged by the rising ocean and becomes a home for all of the life unleashed by Ponyo's magic. Surprisingly, none of the structures seem affected by it after the waters recede.
  • Surprisingly Functional Toys: Somewhat inverted and played with, where, instead of shrinking, a toy boat is expanded until it's big enough to carry two young children, and works perfectly well. This is all part of the magic, of course. Played with when a couple of items are left in the boat when it shrinks back, really do become perfect miniatures.
  • Tears of Joy: Sosuke lets some out when he realizes that Ponyo hasn't died.
  • Third-Person Person: Ponyo, when she starts to talk, will sometimes refer to herself in the third person. The first full sentence she speaks is "Ponyo loves Sosuke!"
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Fujimoto is really tall, but Granmamare in her normal form is at least a hundred feet! She can shrink herself a lot to resemble a human (sort of), but even in this form, she looks about eight feet tall!
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Sosuke tells his mother that "all [Ponyo] thinks about is ham."
  • True Love's Kiss: Seals the deal for Ponyo's transformation into a human, though it's not the big deal that it usually is, probably since the protagonists are young children around the age of five.
  • Underwater Base: Fujimoto lives in a home below the sea.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Ponyo is a fish with a face, but nobody finds that strange (save one elderly woman who is treated as being a tad paranoid anyway). There's also Ponyo's "chicken/frog legs" when she uses magic, Sosuke's giant toy boat, the underwater jellyfish dome that covers the senior home... The people of this town seem to be pretty chill.
    Sosuke: (After seeing a wave with eyes.) That was weird.
  • Villain Decay: Fujimoto goes from a vengeful man biding time to cause a country sinking flood to just the overprotective and fretful father he always was. This is also assuming Fujimoto was a 'villain' to begin with.
  • Villain Song: Fujimoto's Theme, which is sung from the titular character's perspective and details his negative views towards mankind.
  • Visual Pun: The credits feature little bits of art before the individual names. Intentional or not, this is in full effect with support studios Studio Cockpit (a jet cockpit), Brains Base (a baseball plate), T2 Studio (a hand holding up two fingers) and Tatsunoko Production (a seahorse, as befitting their name).
  • Walk on Water: Ponyo can run on the surface of the sea.
  • Was Once a Man: Fujimoto is humanoid, and yet clearly not human, given that he possesses strange powers, can breathe underwater, and traveling through open air causes him to dehydrate rapidly enough to be life threatening. He mentions at one point that he used to be human.
  • Weirdness Censor: Nobody seems overly amazed at any supernatural event that occurs. In fact most of the adults continue to believe that Ponyo is a 'goldfish'. See also Unusually Uninteresting Sight. It's implied (but never outright stated) that humans have a hard time perceiving magic, (the big example is that the fishermen comment on the waves, but not that they are made of watery fish) and that Sousuke never saw the eyes, and other than the one woman, nobody noticed that Ponyo had a human face.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Fujimoto, though his good intentions only extend to life in the ocean. He quickly becomes a Harmless Villain because Ponyo accidentally foils his plans to cover the world with a prehistoric ocean and at the end he is only genuinely worried for his daughter and for the planet.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Exceedingly brief: one shot during the credits shows Ponyo happily playing with the other kids at Sosuke's kindergarten and Fujimoto talking to humans on the surface.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Ponyo, while still possessed of her potion-boosted fair-folk sea powers blesses an infant child. While her parents help clean up the damage she caused at the end of the movie they never actually reverse it, and the child is never mentioned again. So there is a random kid in town with the blessings of a sea-goddess. Take that Aquaman!
  • When You Coming Home, Dad?: A unique variation involving Koichi and his job. Sosuke is cool with it but Lisa is clearly upset.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years:
    • Sosuke. Beyond the heroic scenes he gets, it's impressive how he mans the signal light - he reads, writes and mediates between his parents who just had a fight because his father had to stay out at sea.
    • He also knows an astounding amount about extinct sea life. He even recognizes that all of the fish he sees are from the Devonian. Possibly justified, as prehistoric fish are to the Japanese what dinosaurs are to large areas of the Western world note , so a 5-year-old could very well know a lot about those fish.
  • Women Are Wiser: In contrast to Fujimoto's Fantastic Racism towards humans, Granmamare is much more altruistic towards them and is more comfortable with the idea of Ponyo being with Sosuke. And from what we see, she's generally more level-headed than he is.
  • You Are What You Hate: Fujimoto was a human and still needs magic to survive under the sea. Doesn't stop him from wanting the world submerged once again.
  • Youkai: Fujimoto, Ponyo, and Ponyo's sisters are ambiguous supernatural creatures that are most likely youkai (or half-youkai demigods, in the cases of Ponyo and her sisters).

Alternative Title(s): Ponyo, Ponyo On A Cliff By The Sea