By Sandra Kraisirideja
Parents be warned: if you take your kids to see “Ponyo” you will be subjected to pleas for a pet goldfish immediately after the movie ends.
“Ponyo,” the latest animated film by Oscar winner Hayao Miyazaki, tells the story of a magical goldfish who falls in love with a little boy and transforms herself into a little girl to be with him.
The Japanese version of the film was released in 2008 with Japanese actors providing the voices. The American version replaces the voice cast with English-speaking actors including, Liam Neesom, Cate Blanchet, Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Cloris Leachman, Lily Tomlin and Betty White. Noah Cyrus, Miley’s younger sister, provides the voice of Ponyo with Frankie Jonas, the youngest Jonas brother, as Sosuke (pronounced So-skay).
No kid could resist the possibility of getting a goldfish with magical powers and having the kinds of adventures that take place in “Ponyo.” Sosuke, the film’s hero, is a five-year-old boy who respects his elders, is well-behaved and intelligent.
He tackles tough situations with just a trace of fear, but easily sets aside those emotions to accomplish the task at hand. In Miyazaki’s universe, a five-year-old boy can be left alone to watch over his house while his mother attempts to rescue friends from a potential flood.
Ponyo, in contrast, represents the eager, rambunctious child. She rebels against her father, a former human-turned-wizard, who is charged with maintaining the balance between the ocean and the land. His magical potions give life to the variety of sea life that fills the ocean and Ponyo has learned to use magic too. She yearns to be free and escapes to the surface.
Miyazaki, who won an Oscar in 2003 for “Spirited Away,” creates imagery that could be mistaken for imaginative watercolors. The world he creates for “Ponyo” is beautiful and inviting. His ocean is not frightening or mysterious. It’s a magical world full of vibrant color and tranquility.
With all the hubbub surrounding 3-D and computer animation, Miyazaki is a reminder that story still trumps technique. His style sits firmly in the 2-D style of animation pioneered by Walt Disney yet the imagery is still awe-inspiring.
A common theme in Miyazaki’s films is our relationship to nature and the negative impact that consumerism and waste has on the environment. A scene in “Ponyo” depicts a large tanker dragging the bottom of the ocean, pulling up an array of trash including a refrigerator.
It seems unreal that we are filling up the ocean with trash, but news reports of enormous, floating trash islands are increasing. The subject is easy to ignore because not many people live in the middle of the ocean or underwater where it can be seen. This doesn’t make it any less of a reality and another good lesson to be taken from “Ponyo.”