ANIME & MANGA - Review
15:19 - 2nd April 2013, by Amanda Young


Ponyo can be a difficult movie to get to grips with. What passes for its internal logic makes no sense, and its plot builds drama and tension throughout its run-time, before blowing over into nothing, and (spoiler alert) granting its protagonists a rather underwhelming happily ever after. Whilst My Neighbour Totoro grappled with a similar story of a young child venturing into a world of imagination, it told its story with effortless grace, but Ponyo is full of contradictions that are swept under the carpet. Nevertheless, for those willing to suspend their disbelief for the length of the movie, Ponyo does provide plenty of fun, and all plot problems aside, is another charming feature-length adventure from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.
One thing that Ponyo is not prepared to do, throughout its runtime, is pander to the demands of its adult audience. Not even the grown-ups in this tale act particularly like adults - with Sosuke's mother, Lisa, being a prime example. Throughout the movie, she seems more like a girl on the cusp of adulthood than a parent. She sulks over a tiff with her husband, turns from moody to happy in the blink of an eye, endangers the lives of herself and her child with a madcap race along a windswept, costal road during a tsunami, and accepts Ponyo's transformation from a goldfish to a human girl with no problems whatsoever. Equally, although (as with many Ghibli movies) there's a real environmental theme here, any attempt from an adult audience to find a moral in the tale will be met with frustration - especially considering that all of the destruction brought about by Ponyo's magic is seemingly made better again at the movie's close by a simple declaration of love. Whilst Princess Mononoke and Pom Poko both tackled the conflict between the needs of human beings to develop their habitat versus the impact their development has nature with skill, Ponyo attacks the conflict like a child - clumsily, without direction, and seemingly, without any follow through.

But enough has already been said about Ponyo's strange discrepancies and failures - underneath the baffling character motivations and illogical plot constructions lies a charmingly imaginative adventure, which is full of wonder and excitement. As the tsunami, unleashed by Ponyo's unwitting transformation into a human girl, threatens to engulf Sosuke's seaside town, Ponyo's exuberant wave-top ride of triumph along the coast provides one of the most endearing and feel-good moments of the movie. As well as this, the amazing aquatic world and strange, prehistoric creatures that cover the town provide a visual spectacle that harks back to some of Ghibli's greatest animated moments. Of course, Ponyo's quaint, home-made charm will unavoidably be pitted against the latest in CG wizardry from the US in the minds of its audience, and for many, its hand-drawn, 2D animation looks impossibly old-fashioned. Even for fans of Ghibli's style, this could be just a little too old-school, especially compared to the rather-more impressive looking Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle, both of which featured visual offerings which seemed far more detailed than Ponyo's simple world.

To complain of all this seems to be beside the point. The fact is that Ponyo is an exercise in childlike wonder, energy, and plain, old-fashioned good fun. And that's exactly what it provides, in spades.

Far from Miyazaki's best work, Ponyo is nevertheless a great family movie - and definitely one that will enchant children.
SCORE: 4/5
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