In a magical castle under the waves dwells the goldfish Ponyo, daughter of the wizard Fujimoto. Yet Ponyo dreams of seeing the wider world, and on one illicit trip to explore the ocean, she makes it all the way to the shore. Befriended by a human boy, Sousuke, Ponyo eventually learns how to escape the sea and transform herself into a little girl, but will a time come when she will be forced to return to the ocean?
What could loosely be described as a sweeter, more innocent and less depressing take on the tale of the Little Mermaid, Ponyo is the latest offering from Studio Ghibli, and its welcome dose of family entertainment wipes away the dubiousness that was their confusing adaptation of Tales of Earthsea. With Hayao Miyazaki back at the helm, you know exactly what you’re getting- a slice of wholesome enjoyment that will help ease friends and family into the idea that maybe your obsession with ‘those Japanese cartoons’ isn’t such a bad thing overall.
Indeed, despite the fact that the idea of fish turning into humans (and vice versa) had ever been rendered creepy and wrong for me by the disturbing ‘Help, I’m a Fish’ some years earlier, I have to admit that Ponyo is, like most of Ghibli’s offerings, a nice little film. The protagonists are determined and optimistic, no one is truly evil deep down, and love triumphs over all as it inevitably must. The story itself is unique enough to be interesting, but it’s presented with a welcoming ambience that lets you know that, in the end, everything will be all right.
Visually, Ponyo looks as good as any Ghibli film, with its mix of magiic and everyday life brought to life so well that the imagery of individual scenes will stay with you long after the film has finished. Joe Hisaishi handles the music, as usual, and creates a worthy score that suits the film even if it isn’t particularly memorable outside the context of the movie.
Ponyo is not an outstanding movie, but then again, it really doesn’t need to be. It’s gentle Sunday afternoon entertainment, perfect for all ages and guaranteed to warm all but the stoniest of hearts.