It’s sad when you watch a new work by an undisputed master and it elicits negative thoughts. Director/writer Hayao Miyazaki’s (“Spirited Away”, “Princess Mononoke”) new film “Ponyo” is unfortunately one of those instances. The observations that follow might leap past children under 10 years of age, but those older than that will be puzzled by some aspects of this story.
Ponyo is a young sentient female goldfish who upon meeting Sosuke, a five year-old boy, aspires to become human. Her father, oddly enough, is a human who is able to live and breath under the sea and her mother is a human-shaped goddess figure with long flowing hair who wears a long flowing dress and brilliant jewelry. Ponyo’s odd appearance as a small fish with a human head, a swatch of red hair and a non-fishlike tail does not appear to cause any curious reactions among the humans in their pedestrian non-magical world. As the story progresses we discover that Ponyo and some of her marine compatriots have magical powers. Her father declares that an imbalance has been created in the world as Ponyo proceeds in her quest to become human. The symptoms of this imbalance such as astral bodies coming closer to the earth and the reappearance of long extinct Devonian creatures are apparent, but you must not think further about the reason or cause because none of that is clearly explained. Even Sosuke’s mother is not particularly phased when his pet fish has temporarily transformed into a little girl.
There are spectacular scenes of ominous and threatening ocean waves but the way they are staged is not particularly tension-inducing as there are playful and cute elements interspersed within these scenarios. In fact, dramatic tension is sorely lacking in those places where it would add a much-needed accent to the story line. The cute factor is rampant throughout the film with Ponyo having puppy-like mannerisms and her hundreds of much smaller-sized (why?) similar looking sisters swarm adoringly around her and aid her in her quest despite their size and lack of any discernable special powers.
As usual for Miyazaki, the animation is spectacularly hand-drawn with an astonishing attention to detail and color, but such beauty and art does not balance out the overall weakness of the tale.
“Ponyo” opens August 14 at various Puget Sound theatres including the Metro Cinema in Seattle and Landing 14 in Renton. Check your local listings..