This easily made it to the bottom of the list.
I know everyone raves about this movie’s cinematics: and for me, that’s the only thing that is going on for this movie. Miyazaki wanted to back away from CG animation and go back to traditional hand-drawn animation. So in that effect, the mood and visuals are very successful in the eye candy department. The story isn’t very dark, and even the undersea scenes are beautifully lit and bright. A blue and gold palette is mainly used for the water, and Oga’s signature bright green and beige for the earth.
For me, that’s about the only attractive aspect of the movie.
I really, really disliked this story. I see Miyazaki’s touch in it, but I was really quite disappointed in the story. Ponyo may resemble Mei for Totoro, but she’s Mei in a very immature and impish role. In summary, the story of Ponyo is about a magical sea creature who runs away from home out of curiosity, and upon finding an object to serve her purposes of curiosity, she creates chaos in the entire world, literally, to obtain her selfish desires. Upon being caught by her mother, the Goddess of Mercy, she agrees to release her knowledge of magic to become a human girl.
From the moment Ponyo opens her mouth, she rubbed me wrong. She’s obstinate, disobedient, rebellious, mischievous, reckless, and downright selfish. I’ve tried to like her. I’ve tried to see if perhaps she purposefully upturned her father’s elixirs in an attempt to have her mother show up and talk to her father. But that theory didn’t really hold up. By the time she sees her mother, she is scared of her, thereby proving she knew she was going to get in trouble for being naughty. I know she’s just a child, but does she have to be so loud and obnoxious in the English dub?
Sosuke, on the other hand, is mature for his age yet retains his childish wonder and fascination. He is the opposite of Ponyo: sweet, caring, quiet, responsible, cautious, and noble. What a contrast! They are fast friends and the major theme that I noticed in this story is the power of friendship. But even that theme, I couldn’t really support, only because what kind of “friend” puts their friend’s life in danger?
And speaking of danger: Sosuke’s mother Lisa – she’s tough and is a very passionate person, yet why in the world would she leave her young son (and his new friend) alone in a house barely jutting out of the flood waters? In a way, the women in this film are headstrong and selfish while the men are helplessly following them around cleaning up after them. Ponyo’s father Fujimoto is afraid to let go of Ponyo and turn into a human because he fears that if she fails the test, she will turn into sea foam. Does Ponyo care that much about her father? All I see is her ignoring and defying her father. Fujimoto and Sosuke care the most about this little upstart and it’s up to her in the end who she decides to become.
In the theme of growth, I perceive that a life of magic (under the sea with Fujimoto) is the symbol of immaturity, and a life of being a human (letting go of magic) is the symbol of maturity. Ponyo knows to use magic to get her way and impress her friends, but in the end, she chooses to let go of that supernatural power for being with her new friend. So in a sense, she undergoes an external transformation, but I question her mental growth.
I would hope Sosuke throws her out of the house sooner rather than later. And then she turns into sea foam.
A small note: this is probably one of Miyazaki’s “youngest” films he’s made. Even the artwork is very simple (doesn’t make it any less beautiful). I feel that with this story, he took a bit of a breather from all the heavier themes that are told in his other stories and instead focused on a very basic theme of young friends and letting go of magical childish whims.
Anytime I am forced to watch this movie, I admire Sosuke’s patience more and more, but always remain befuddled by his admiration of this defiant brat. Or I do my best to tune out her annoying behavior and enjoy the scenery instead. When watching movies on repeat, the characters begin to grow on you and they aren’t half as annoying as the first time you saw it. But this one? Nope. She only grows more and more irritating. Sorry Mr. Miyazaki, I just can’t feel for this story.