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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:

  • 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.
  • Imprinting: Ponyo becomes imprinted on Sosuke after she drinks on his blood.
  • 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 when Ponyo flies in the air above Sosuke.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Fujimoto, though possibly subverted (see Fridge page). Toki becomes this near the end of the film.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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 insists on it.
  • Meet Cute: Very cute, at that.
  • Mickey Mousing: Joe Hisaishi's music follows Ponyo's movements in a couple of scenes.
  • 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, more so in the Japanese version.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Overprotective Dad: Fujimoto all the way.
  • 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 this trope's poster child.
    • Lisa can be considered a grown-up version of the ones who always appear in Miyazaki movies. Think an adult Kiki.
  • Power of Love: The test Sosuke is put through, to see if Ponyo will be allowed to stay with him.
  • The Promise: Several are made. Some are broken.
  • Puppy Love: Ponyo and Sosuke, although the ending seems to imply they'll grow up as brother and sister.
  • Rapunzel Hair:
    • Ponyo's mother has never-ending hair!
    • Even Fujimoto's easily reaches his knees.
  • Reality Warper: Ponyo (as implied by her dad), since she can cause a tsunamand 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.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter:
    • Ponyo when she's a fish; can even apply to when she's a human girl.
    • Ponyo's sisters too.
  • 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: "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.
  • Shout-Out:
    • 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.
    • 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
  • 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.
  • 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: When Sosuke realizes that Ponyo hasn't died.
  • Third-Person Person: Ponyo when she starts talking.
  • 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: "HAAAAAAAAM!!!"
  • True Love's Kiss: But 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.
  • 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.
  • Villain Song: Fujimoto's Theme, which is sung from the titular character's perspective and details his Humans Are Bastards 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).
  • 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!
  • Widget Series
  • Wise Beyond Their Years:
    • Sosuke, sometimes Up to Eleven. 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 vis-à-vis humanity.
  • 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


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