In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb five acts poster

Jane Fonda in Five Acts

Director Susan Lacy has the great advantage of a subject whose life has been extensively documented literally since birth.

Thumb fahrenheit eleven nine

Fahrenheit 11/9

The messiness of Moore’s film starts to feel appropriate for the times we’re in. With a new issue being debated every day, is it any…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives

Reviews

Ponyo

Ponyo Movie Review
  |  

There is a word to describe “Ponyo,” and that word is magical. This poetic, visually breathtaking work by the greatest of all animators has such deep charm that adults and children will both be touched. It’s wonderful and never even seems to try: It unfolds fantastically.

The G-rated feature tells a story both simple and profound. Sosuke, a 5-year-old who lives in a house on a seaside cliff, finds a goldfish trapped in a jar on the beach. This is Ponyo. Freeing her, he is rewarded by a lick on a finger that heals a cut. And by tasting human blood, we learn, Ponyo gains the ability to transform between fish and human.

Advertisement

This begins a friendship. Sosuke (the voice of Frankie Jonas, younger brother of the Jonas Brothers) protects Ponyo (Noah Cyrus, Miley’s kid sister) in a pail until arms and legs pop spontaneously from her body and she becomes a little girl who speaks his language. He takes her to school and to the nursing home next door where his father works; all is wonderful until we discover that by crossing the divide between land and sea, Ponyo has triggered ecological changes that unleash a dangerous tsunami that floods Sosuke’s village right up to the doorstep of his house.

This begins an exciting escape in a toy boat that Ponyo magically enlarges, and a dreamlike journey among flooded treetops in search of Sosuke’s mother. From the surface, they can see giant prehistoric fish, awakened by the great wave, which cruise the highways his mother once drove.

This cannot help sounding like standard animated fare. But I have failed to evoke the wonder of Hayao Miyazaki’s artistry. This 68-year-old Japanese master continues to create animation drawn by hand, just as “Snow White” and “Pinocchio” were. There is a fluid, organic quality to his work that exposes the facile efficiency of CGI. And, my God! — his imagination!

The film opens with a spellbinding, wordless sequence beneath the sea, showing floating jellyfish and scampering bottom-dwellers. The pastels of this scene make “Ponyo” one of the very rare movies where I want to sit in the front row, to drown in it. This is more than “artistry.” It is art.

And consider Miyazaki’s imagination as he creates a human protector of this seascape, Fujimoto (Liam Neeson). He is the father of Ponyo and her countless baby sisters (the biology involved is widely not explained). Although he seems sinister at first, his desire to keep Ponyo in the sea is eventually explained because of his concern for the balance of Earth’s nature.

Advertisement

Already it is threatened by the debris of human civilization; we see a bottom-scooping ship dredge up tons of waste. Sosuke’s happy life on the clifftop and the peace of his friends at the old folks’ home are belied by the pollution so near at hand. Of course, it is up to Ponyo and Sosuke to set things back in balance.

Miyazaki is the Japanese creator of “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away,” “Howl’s Moving Castle” and many other beloved films. Already I have heard from a few people who don’t want to see it “because it’s Japanese.” This is solid-gold ignorance. “Is it only dubbed?” I was asked. You dummy! All animated films are dubbed! Little Nemo can’t really speak!

Miyazaki is known as the god of American animators, and Disney has supplied “Ponyo” with an A-list cast of vocal talents, also including Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and Tina Fey. The English-language version has been adapted by John Lasseter (“Toy Story,” “Cars”) and, believe me, he did it for love, not money. There are so few movies that can delight both a small child and the adult in the next seat. Here is one of them.

Popular Blog Posts

"You Were Expecting Someone Else?" Why a Non-White James Bond is the Franchise's Logical Next Step

Not only would Idris Elba make a great James Bond, the franchise has been building towards casting an actor of color ...

Grace and Nature: On Criterion’s Release of The Tree of Life

On the new Criterion release of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, which includes a new 50-minute-longer extended cu...

Jonah Hill, Emma Stone Star in Netflix’s Daring, Brilliant Maniac

A review of the phenomenal new Netflix show starring Jonah Hill and Emma Stone.

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus