Rated G; Directed by Hayao Miyazaki; Starring voice talents of Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Frankie Jonas, Noah Cyrus, Tina Fey, Matt Damon
Heading to most animated films you know what to expect: smart-alecky animals, kids, and/or adults mixed with some common cultural references, and throw in a song or two. If you take those expectations into Ponyo, Director Hayao Miyazaki’s newest film, you’ll be forgiven if you catch yourself saying, “What the — hold on, remember, this is a kid’s film — what the heck? You’ll be saying “WTH?” a lot during the film even as you begin to enjoy the beauty of the simple animation and story.
A magical fish, residing under the ocean waves with a wizard (voice of Liam Neeson), escapes for some fun. She heads to the surface and survives danger with the help of a little boy named Sosuke (Frankie Jonas). He names her Ponyo (Noah Cyrus). The wizard makes Ponyo return to the ocean, but she is determined to head back to Sosuke. She turns herself into a girl and sets out for her newfound love. Any resemblance to The Little Mermaid, other than Ponyo’s hair color, is coincidental.
It’s a strange little story with moments of magic and wonder. Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle) uses the usual Japanese anime style in his character design, but animates the ocean creatures in a deceptively simple style. The plot that may cause all those “What the hecks?” is also a lovely story. Updated with voice talents of English-speaking actors, this Japanese movie may not fit into our expected mold of what an animated film should be, but it is sweet and enchanting. I agree with the little girl who sat in the row behind me when she said, “I like that movie!”