"Ponyo" (2008) – Studio Ghibli Review

What’s going on guys? I’m Tyler and to
continue my series of Studio Ghibli reviews,
Im here to let you know that “Ponyo” is NoPerfectMovie!
And of course “Ponyo” is about an enchanted goldfish (played by Yuria Nara)
who attempts to leave her
overprotective father-this wizard known as Fujimoto!
And through the use of magic, she turns herself into a human and comes across
a boy named Sosuke (played by Hiroki Doi… I couldn’t find a translation on that!
This boy Sosuke had already met her as a
goldfish and decides to name her “Ponyo”
and she’s subsequently taken in by his mother Lisa!
Now I try not to say over and over again
with every Studio Ghibli review how
great the animation is because the
majority of you already know that,
but with each new Studio Ghibli movie
there’s always a new
landscape or environment that hasn’t been
covered before and with “Ponyo”
it really occurred to me that we hadn’t
really seen a movie purely about the ocean
or about an underwater world before, so there was
a lot of brand new, beautiful scenery to see on
the big screen and of course,
Hayao Miyazaki rises to the occasion!
He was so meticulous about the depiction of oceans and waves in this movie to the point where
he decided to animate all of that
himself and it led to a record of
170, 000 separated animated cels but you
know what,
the effort really goes to show! I love
how the scenery, the character designs
and the colours all have that
children’s storybook feel to it because
it’s a very loose adaptation of
“The Little Mermaid” so you want to have that
old school fairy tale look to it and you
know what, it really does suit the story
and the characters very nicely!
And it helps that Joe Hisashi’s score-
who’s provided so much great music in these movies already, he does something a lot more tranquil
with his music that i haven’t really
since “My Neighbor Totoro” because there are a lot of
fast-paced, adventurous moments that have a lot of
exciting, fast-paced orchestral music to it
especially when Ponyo is
riding this school of fish trying to
chase after Sosuke when she turns into
a human for the first time!
It’s incredibly fast-paced, it’s animated
in longer takes to make her stunts look
a hell of a lot more exciting but
whenever characters are just
riding on a boat on this underwater
world where their village has been
completely submerged
and they’re… very peaceful and
optimistic about it because they’re
alive and they’re on a boat and not
really much else,
the music is a lot more softer than
you would get with most movies-
whenever you have something like “Castle in the Sky”, “Princess Mononoke” or “Howl’s Moving Castle”,
there’s always this soft piano melody that feels that
gives this sense of hope but also
melancholy. With this one,
there’s really just a lot of slow but
upbeat moments of hope and not really
much else because with a story like this,
you can already anticipate what the outcomes
are going to be-you’re not going to be able
to guess characters actions and choices along the way, but you know that it’s going to lead to
these predictable beats but
it definitely helps that the animation,
the music and the characters
are so good that you don’t really care
because by far,
the best aspect about “Ponyo” is
Ponyo as a character and the animation-
and i’m gonna keep saying this girl’s name
because I want to memorize this as much as possible…
Yuria Nara!
It’s really easy to make a kid character
in a movie or a TV show feel ungodly
annoying and the usual excuse is that
it’s trying to be more realistic in its
presentation and I’m not
doubting that it’s realistic, but because
it reminds me so much of
kids who are ungodly annoying that
it really takes me out of the movie and
I can’t enjoy it so there’s a lot more
pressure nowadays to make cake
characters feel
authentic but still enjoyable! But thankfully Ponyo is
such a cheerful, energetic and curious child
that whenever she’s impressed by the most
mundane things in daily life,
her love of life and the joy that she
feels learning something brand new
is really hard to resist-her passion for
life is actually really contagious!
One of my favoruite scenes in particular, she’s discovering what hot tea is for the first time!
It’s not by any means
that interesting on the surface but
seeing a close-up from her perspective
of dipping honey into the tea and then her
close-up of the reaction because she’s
never actually had a drink before and when
she’s mimicking Sosuke’s reactions when he’s
basically scooping the honey from the
spoon and blowing on the tea to make bubbles,
it feels very authentic because kids tend to mimic the actions of their friends because they want to be
exactly like them, and since Ponyo wants
to be a human
at all costs, it does fit the character
very nicely!
But she still has basic flaws that
little kids go through without it really
being dwelled on so much; she does
nonchalantly talk about her life as
a fish not knowing that
very few people really believe her-
let alone understand what’s going on, she can
be snippy towards other people when they
disagree with her or they try to
enforce their rules upon her-
especially her relationship with Fujimoto!
And like many kids, she’s known to make
impulsive choices without really much
thought of what happens afterwards-
whether or not she causes any trouble or
if her joy is gonna last for very long!
At least that’s how I felt that way with both the English and the Japanese version and I started off
watching the English version before I made this review
but… I gotta be honest, the voice acting in
the English one pissed me off so much
that I switched to the Japanese version and
started from scratch!
Which i felt disappointed by because you
have a great supporting cast in the Disney version;
you have Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Liam Neeson,
Cate Blanchett,
Betty White, Cloris Leachman, Lily Tomlin!
Hell, as much as i’m complaining about it,
Noah Cyrus as Ponyo is definitely the major highlight for sure!
And none of the actors are technically
really all that bad,
but the translated script just sounds
unbelievably corny-it has characters
explaining things that
do not need explanations because it’s
clear as day to any five-year-old,
or it’s little facts about the mythology-
Liam Neeson does this a lot where he
explains the rules of his magic even
though they never come into fruition ever again that
It’s just so hard to take it seriously! And a lot of it feels
like unnecessary filler! There are so many
times where you don’t see a character’s
mouth move but they’re talking and it’s
obviously added in dialogue because they
don’t trust kids enough to really
understand what’s going on in the script
and it really hurts the actor’s
performances because
Tina Fey is giving one of her most
grounded works as
Lisa, the mother but as many people have
pointed out she’s one of
(if not) the dumbest parents in a Ghibli movie-her driving
is unbelievably reckless, she puts her kid
in danger on so many different occasions,
when he’s caught skipping school and
causing trouble at
her work which is next door to school,
what happens when she takes him home?
She gets him an ice cream!! I get that you
lost your fish & everything-a fish
that you had for one day but you still
skipped school and caused a great amount
of trouble…
I wish I had that when i was a little kid!
Ao her realistic attitude towards her performance-
because she really is trying to be realistic and genuine
doesn’t match up with the characters
actions! And if anyone’s going to
complain to me about this because I complained about
the “Spirited Away” parents: is Lisa dumber than them?
Absolutely! Does she cause more
destruction towards her child?
Absolutely! That being said, she actually
has scenes where she is capable of being
a loving and smart parent-especially when she’s
put with having Ponyo as a responsibility!
She starts to wisen up, she makes a lot
a lot more ‘smarter’ choices-she’s not a
hundred percent foolproof but
I just genuinely believe that she was
a loving and affectionate parent in both versions that
I could sidestep the fact that she was a
complete idiot… the parents in
“Spirited Away”… never saw any love and affection
in them so yeah, another
thing to add to my plate when it came to that!
Liam Neeson as Fujimoto, that was the one voice that really stuck out the most because his stern,
strict attitude didn’t really match with
his bright colourful and
for lack of a better word, ‘flamboyant’
design but at the same time, I can’t
really imagine that many other actors who
really could convincingly play that character and be
taken seriously plus,
Liam Neeson in this is playing an
overprotective father who would do
anything to get his daughter back-
including invading other people’s
privacy in business…
further proof that Liam Neeson should
really stop playing parents
in movies or… yeah,
just movies-that’s really all I’ve got but,
I will say this; the three actors that really
fit the designs and personalities in the
Disney version are Betty White, Cloris Leachman and Lily Tomlin
as these senior citizens that live at the nursing
home Lisa works at and whenever Sosuke
is around them and spends time with them,
they feel so natural because they know
how to talk to someone as if they were a
genuine five-year-old kid-very loving,
nurturing, understanding especially when he’s
spouting out his fantasies and they just
love how curious and imaginative he is-at least
Betty White & Cloris Leachman are
(if you’re Mary Tyler Moore fans, you’re going to understand that easter egg),
Lily Tomlin starts off a little too mean-spirited as the one
cranky senior citizen but her arc does pay off in the end.
So I’ve complained more about the Disney version just to
get people to watch the Japanese version
because it is so much better in regards to its voice acting, that reminds me-I almost forgot about
Frankie Jonas as Sosuke because there
were times where he felt
genuine & believable and other times
where it just didn’t sound like he was
even trying all that much.
I know he was a young kid during
production but so was Hiroki Doi
and he was unbelievably more genuine and
he was less high pitched than most kids
in Ghibli movies which
is the great thing about Ponyo and
Sosuke in the Japanese version;
their voices fit the character designs
so nicely, they’re not loud unless they
really need to be because a lot of what
makes Ponyo interesting
is just her silent reactions to daily life. She’s not
super loud about everything-in fact, she spends
most of the movie just looking at someone
unbelievably confused because she
doesn’t know that much about the human
and it makes her a much more
open-minded child than you’re used to
and that’s another thing that makes her
incredibly lovable as a character!
Now one thing I did notice while
re-watching “Ponyo” today was that
in the first half of the movie before
her transformation-they do spend a great
deal of time developing her and Sosuke
almost equally as characters in order to
set up the things that they have
in common so that you can buy into their
friendship later on but
there were so many things about Sosuke’s daily life
to the point where there
were so many scenes that felt like
unnecessary filler-namely centring around his
workaholic father who in the Disney
version is played by Matt Damon.
I get why he’s in the movie but every
single time they cut back to him,
it felt completely pointless, it didn’t feel like there was any weight to the story
and if you were to remove him physically
from the movie-have him be a character
but an unseen character, you could hammer in
the importance of him returning home to
his family in a much more
subtle way. I sat there and
I thought wouldn’t it be great if it was
like “E.T.” where you didn’t see the dad and that
made it very clear how much the son
wanted him in his life but probably
didn’t really need him all that much.
But again, I get why he was in there-
because Ponyo has a very overprotective
father and Sosuke has a father who’s
incredibly absent but at the same time,
whereas Ponyo develops after dealing with her father
being so overprotective of her, Sosuke doesn’t even seem remotely fazed by his father’s absence and
he only gets one scene to actually
talk to him and it’s
not really of that much importance,
so there are filler moments like that
that felt completely unnecessary-I felt like
you could have gotten to the
transformation a lot sooner or
spent the entire movie about being after
the transformation-just have the entire
movie be like “My Neighbor Totoro” where
all of her discoveries are portrayed in
such a whimsical way to the point where
you feel like you’re a kid learning all
these things for yourself all over again
because after the repercussions of Ponyo
turning human and causing all of this
flooding and damage towards the city
even though they’re completely unfazed by it,
there are some potential stakes in there.
I said this already, this is a loose
adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” and
Miyazaki adds in some stakes that were
in the original book; if you’ve read the
original book… you know what would happen
to Ariel if Eric didn’t fall in love with her and they
add that in here and I’m not even
entirely sure why because it’s as clear as day
what type of relationship Ponyo and Sosuke have
and there’s no real tension to it
because they never seem to disagree with each other.
Sure, Ponyo acts more like a child than he
does and there are moments where he has
to smarten up and mature-especially when
he’s taking this boat that she transformed from
a toy into a real thing,
and he knows exactly how to work it,
he knows how to steer it
and he’s very quickly maturing like any
other Ghibli kid and that part was very nice,
but at the same time if there’s the risk
that he might fall
uninterested with her, something bad’s
gonna happen but you never feel it
because you know clear as day that
they’re going to stick together in the end
no matter what and there’s even another subplot about the Moon
possibly getting closer towards the
Earth and possibly crashing into it just
because she turned human and I don’t even understand
where that plot-thread came from.
It does feel like there are more filler
moments in this movie than most other Ghibli films and
it doesn’t really help that the English
dub tends to over explain it anyways
even though there’s no point. It really makes you
wonder why they would even release the
movie in America if you didn’t have
faith in audiences paying attention but
the good news is “Ponyo” does have
beautiful animation, a fantastic
main character, really good voice acting
and just an overall
great sense of imagination and wonder
from seeing an underwater world for the
first time in a Studio Ghibli film
and of course Joe Hisaishi providing
great music that elevates the atmosphere,
the acting and the themes and for all those reasons,
I’m going to give “Ponyo” 3.5/5. Guys, thanks as always for watching!
If you have seen “Ponyo”, let me know in the comments below what you thought of it!
Be sure to stay tuned for more Studio Ghibli reviews and be sure to like and subscribe!
Take care!

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