Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo (or its Japanese title Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea) is simply simple — a take-it-or-leave-it retelling of the Little Mermaid. It’s characters are absolutes — Sōsuke (Hiroki Doi/Frankie Jonas) the little boy who loves unconditionally, his strong-willed mother Lisa (Tomoko Yamaguchi/Tina Fey) who battles loneliness with food and drink, and Ponyo (Yuria Nara/Noah Cyrus) the little innocent goldfish who wants nothing more than to be with Sōsuke. It’s charming, childlike, and like most of Miyazaki’s work, a passionate plea for environmentalism, peace, and love.
It begins with Fujimoto (George Tokoro/Liam Neeson), a disgruntled human who refuses to associate with his species because of its recklessness. He schemes to overthrow the world of land with his magic and waits patiently as he collects enough power to do so. When his goldfish daughter Brunhilde becomes stranded on land, Sōsuke comes to the rescue. His devotion to protect the helpless little fish forms a bond that can’t be broken, even when Fujimoto’s helpers bring the renamed Ponyo back to his underground lair. Choosing to become human, Ponyo unleashes her father’s stored magic which turns her human and creates a catastrophic storm that threatens to wash over the city.
The love between Sōsuke and Ponyo is put to the test and the consequences of failure are dire. Though the characters are pretty much one-dimensional, they are strong enough representations that backstories aren’t necessary to understand them on a deeper level. It’s a departure from Miyazaki’s other films in that there is no urgent criminal threat, and the solution that resolves most of the conflicts in the movie is love. The film makes an interesting observation that people, when stripped of the things they don’t need, can exist as long as they can love each other. It’s a beautiful film, startling in its presentation and message.
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Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, and Liam Neeson (American dub) — Yuria Nara, Tomoko Yamaguchi, and George Tokoro (original Japanese dub