Directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
Featuring voices of Noah Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon. Animation. 103 mins.
You should always proceed with caution if someone is acclaimed as the writers’ writer or the comics’ comic or some such’s some such, it’s often a sign that they aren’t going to the audience’s. 69 year old Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki is the animator’s animator, so much so that the Western release of his latest film is being overseen by Pixar boss and secular saint John Lasseter.
This is old school pen and paper animation, often very beautiful but also rather basic. He’s a bit of an old stick in the mud, stubbornly remaining with the methods and themes he knows. The title character here is very similar to the little girl in his eighties classic My Neighbour Totoru.
None of this matters; it’s just that if you’re new to him, it does take some acclimatising. He also has a rather strange way with story telling, bits that would normally be brushed over quickly are stretched out, whereas other moments that would be emphasised are rushed through.
Ponyo is a much more straightforward proposition than his last two films Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle which should make it more child friendly. (I always half suspected that pushy parents made their offspring watch Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle in the way they might push them into piano lessons.) Basically it’s a Little Mermaid variation about a goldfish that gets stuck in a glass jar and is washed up on to the beach where she is rescued by a little boy and decides it wants to be a little girl.
There are the occasional disconcerting moments. Early on you see a figure of a crone faced witch who then speaks with Liam Neeson’s voice. Ponyo the fish is drawn with a human face which you assume to be a bit of artistic licence until one of the other characters comments upon it.
It is though just enchanting, and in ways you can never quite put your finger on. Maybe it’s because the film resembles so closely the feeling of being read a child’s storybook.
For really pushy parents there will be a few subtitled screenings of the Japanese language version but really the American dubbed version is fine. It’s been done with care and apart from Neeson you don’t notice the famous voices; even the Cyrus and Jonas spawn are totally agreeable.