Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ponyo - All cute. No bite.

All in all, an unremarkable experience. It was a cute diversion with lots of pretty colors and fishies, but nothing I wouldn't have been worse off for missing. The English dub likely contributed to my lack of enjoyment. Some really stilted and wooden delivery from the voice actors. Frankie Jonas and Noah Cyrus, younger siblings of our favorite Disney Channel gremlins, give cringeworthy and ear-grating performances. I love Tina Fey, but her performance was also god-awful and inconsistent. The one saving grace to the English cast is Liam Neeson, the one person who delivers his lines in a believable manner and seems to give a damn about his role.

Acting aside, the characters and plot didn't help either. Just a bit too simple and dumbed down for children for my tastes. I'll go ahead and spoil the ending the movie. For those of you who still want to see this, don't worry. There's nothing you can't see coming as long as you have the capacity for sentient thought. Anyway, the climax with the Earth facing certain destruction from a falling moon, ends with the protagonist kid, Sousuke, briefly swearing that he will love Ponyo whether she is fish or girl. The intended demographic of this film may be young, but you gotta have something more intense than that. Additionally, I admit I was bothered by the fact that the kid falls "in love" with a fish. Yeah, I know Ponyo ultimately turns into a girl, but Christ, she still used to be a fish. Love can go ahead and blast through many boundaries, but interspecies walls should not be one of them. Speaking of love, why the hell is Sousuke talking about loving somebody romantically for the rest of his life when he is only 5? Way to paint a realistic picture for kids. The more realistic relationship between Sousuke's mother and father is brushed aside far too quickly.

I feel like a child-hating bastard for saying this, but I wish I spent my money for Inglorious Basterds instead. Less adorable, but likely more entertaining. I may rewatch Ponyo when it gets issued on DVD just to see if the Japanese dub elevates the film.


  1. I couldn't disagree with you more, Wally. Yeah, it's not Miyazaki's best film, but I still found Ponyo to be a highly enjoyable experience. I also found the dub to be just fine, save for Tina Fey.

  2. Reading this, I'm not sure whether it's the English dub or cynicism that keeps you from enjoying this.

    Seeing it tomorrow, so I guess I'll find out.

  3. Indeed, it may very well be my cynicism. By all means, it still is very well-made, and I can easily still see why many people would enjoy it. On a different day, the cuteness might have worked.

  4. Movie is sooooooooo much better than Howl's.

    Wasn't as enthused with the second half of the film as the first, though it resolves itself fine; the plot is incidental to the childlike idealism and theme of family that's consistent throughout like in Totoro. (I don't see the interspecies bit, either, considering she's literally all-human at the end.) And there are some gorgeous, wonderful scenes: the opening ascent, the morse code between the house and ship, the encased nursing home, Ponyo running on the waves -- god, I could watch a short film of that one. The animation and art is so refreshing from a studio that's become too clinical in the past decade.

    Not understanding the criticisms of the English dub. The bit parts are throwaway, and whenever Sousuke's father showed up I could only think, "Holy hell, Matt Damon is in an anime" (to be fair, this is due to the character's scarce appearances), but it's nothing like how it is described here. Those Jonas and Cyrus kids do well enough, and I really like Liam Neeson's and Tina Fey's efforts.

  5. Just saw this with Andrew and we had quite a bit of fun.

    It was pretty much completely retarded and the whole "true love" bullshit is not only ridiculous but completely forced and bolted on top of a shockingly rickety and nonsensical "plot."

    But somehow it still worked. There was just so much "cute" glue smeared all over the madman's toothpick bridge that it managed to span the gap and still be very entertaining. There were more than a few genuinely funny and touching moments, which certainly helped.

    Oddly enough, it also felt like one of the most Japanese movies I've seen from Ghibli. Next to Ponyo's infectious smile, the real character of the movie was the ocean itself, roiling and boiling with omnipresent life - and danger.

    In some ways, the film felt like it could only have been made in an island nature that regularly suffers tsunamis and typhoons. The whole movie takes on an entirely different feeling and tone if you think that the kids watching it probably went through a few storms that felt a lot like that (from their point of view).

    But maybe I just had Katrina on my mind after watching the terrible preview for Disney's The Princess and the Frog just before Ponyo started...

  6. Finally actually read Wally's review here, and one thing I would point out is that they never once said "in love." They said "love."
    These are pretty different things, and they were pretty careful to skirt that line in the script.

    I just went and rewatched the preview for The Princess and the Frog to make sure it was just that mindshatteringly horrible. From their complete inability to advertise any traditionally animated film without exhuming the ghosts of two decent and one shit film made twenty fucking years ago to fucking everything in the trailer, which just made me wonder exactly why they're refusing to release Song of the South, the grand tradition of the minstrel show, indeed.

  7. Ok, this comment is a bit late with regard to the post age, but here goes.

    I disagree with your conclusion about their relationship.
    Re: being in love with a fish. Frist off, it was made clear in the beginning that Ponyo is a half-breed with human DNA. But regardless, you could interpret Ponyo's transformation as an indicator of Sousuke's affection to her. As it grows, she gradually transforms into a human. You can see a similar theme in e.g. Howl's, and many of Miyazaki's films have a more general theme of, you can reach your dreams if you just believe in them enough. It's a powerful emotional trigger.

    Re: Eternal love. I think you're biased by the fact that you're a grown-up. I don't think the film will impress kids with an image that marriage is forever or anything like that. Rather, to me, it represents the playful fantasy world in a child's mind. Everything grows and becomes more real. When kids play they can promise each other eternal friendship, and really mean it, if only for a day. That's the kind of love Sousuke and Ponyo are sharing. You might argue that something that looks like romantic love is over the top, but again, it's an emotional trigger. It gets the message through.