I was able to catch an advance screening of Ponyo at San Diego Comic Con, and needless to say, I was mesmerized by what I saw. Before the film began, Miyazaki appeared and introduced the film by saying that computers are such a huge part of our life now but he is very concerned that they might enter our brains and change the way we think. He went on to say that he wanted Ponyo to be extremely simplistic and was proud of the product when a five year old boy said he was happy that a film drawn by a "child" made it into theaters. Miyazaki then chuckled a bit and smiled. From this story, I braced myself for (hopefully) another magical Studio Ghibli film that would emphasize the simplicities of the world while at the same time playing to the child in all of us.
And like all of the animated features that have come out of Miyazaki's animation house, this film succeeds in every way.
Ponyo, a take off of the classic Little Mermaid tale, focuses on a young fish girl that upon escaping her underwater world finds love in the form of Sosuke, a five-year old boy who lives by the beach. However, Ponyo's father, like any father, is concerned about the well being of his daughter and with his negative experience with the humans above will do anything to severe the ties between Ponyo and Sosuke. From the there, Miyazaki crafts a tale that focuses on many of Miyazaki's key themes in all of his films: Man and Nature, Love, and the period of growth between childhood and adulthood and the things we gain and lose on this journey.
This narrative is beautifully crafted by Miyazaki's animation team. The art expertly displays the characters and their emotions, but then Studio Ghibli is somehow able to go a step further. When Ponyo is ecstatic and running on water or when Sosuke is terrified that his mother may not come home or any of the other emotionally charged moments, the characters feel real and through these moments, the film is able to tap into the fears and joys we all had when we were kids.
On top of that, Disney was able to nab some fantastic voice actors yet again (Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Cloris Leechman, etc.) that made the english dub come to life. I do believe that without these strong iconic voices there would be little point in watching the English dub because more often than not the Japanese actors are far superior than their English counterparts, but with the help of these US staples, Ponyo thankfully survives the translation.
All in all, there was very little I didn't like about Ponyo. Yes it's based off of a familiar tale, but for Ponyo and Sosuke everything is new and exciting. Because of Miyazaki's expert narrative and animation, I too was brought back to my childhood and that familiar Hans Christian Andersen story was the furthest place from my mind. All I could do was keep my eyes glued to the screen to see the magic that would come next.