Friday, August 21, 2009

Movie Review: Ponyo

Requester: Just me. I went to a kid’s movie alone. Put down the haterade.

I have a confession. I missed the first few minutes of this film. I caught only about twenty seconds of the first scene before the opening credits began. However, those twenty seconds were enough to convince me that I was in for a visually stunning and emotionally satisfying experience. Ponyo is a great movie for both young children and cynical adults because it taps into human emotion more honestly and purely than most American movies today. I’m a snarky old dude, and even I couldn’t resist this movie’s charms.

So, go see this movie. There are several compelling reasons you should do so. If the plethora of quality voice actors does not convince you this film is special, I don’t know what will. Characters in the film are voiced by Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neesen, Betty White, and Lily Tomlin (to name a few). It would be a miracle to get such a group together for a live action film, let alone the dubbing of a Japanese family movie. Granted, this is a Hayao Miyazaki feature. For the uneducated, Miyazaki is one of the most beloved filmmakers in Japan. He has helmed My Neighbor Totoro (who’s bigger than Mickey Mouse in Japan), Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the Academy Award winning Spirited Away. I think Miyazaki was enough of a draw for Fey and company.

However, even if this movie were voiced by crack addicts behind a McDonalds, I think it would still be worth seeing. As with the Miyazaki movies I’ve seen, the movie is driven more by human emotions and experiences than an intricate plot. Without saying too much about the story (you all should know how I hate that by now), know that Ponyo is a fish that wants to become a human because she has fallen in love with a boy named Sosuke. Most of the really beautiful sequences involve Ponyo discovering the joys of living on land or Sosuke interacting with his parents and the local elderly. There’s a particularly funny and touching scene where Sosuke talks to his father using Morse code. You really have to experience it to appreciate it.

The animation is gorgeous. There’s a very impressive storm sequence and the introduction of Ponyo’s mother, Granmammare, is stunning. It’s really easy see that every frame was lovingly constructed. My only small gripe comes from what I assume is a cultural difference. I found the pacing of the movie to be a bit uneven and the ending seemed a bit rushed. After some thought, however, I realized that perhaps the plot did not require a thorough conclusion. As an American audience member, I think I expect every detail to be explained and that all questions need to be answered by the time the credits roll. By rushing the ending and drawing out the development, Miyazaki spent most of the film focusing on the things I enjoyed the most (the aforementioned interactions). So, maybe Miyazaki’s priorities are better than mine. I’m willing to admit that.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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