3/11/2010

Blu-ray Review: Ponyo (2008)


Now Available to Own



Hayao Miyazaki Photo Slideshow


Related Reviews:
Castle in the Sky
Kiki's Delivery Service
My Neighbor Totoro


Given just how much the films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have inspired the animators working over the past few decades at Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, it's a dream for both fans and animators alike to see the Japanese director's interpretation of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid, which Disney had crafted in the late '80s.


One of Disney Animation's very best films that was nonetheless topped by the perfection that is Beauty and the Beast (arriving on Blu-ray high definition this Fall), for the House of Mouse's version of Mermaid, Disney took a romantic musical approach in its near soft rock opera about a beautiful mermaid who rescues a handsome human and then longs to be “part of their world.”

However and per usual for the Anime director, Miyazaki ditches the Disney princesses, pomp and paradigm. In opting for a more basic storyline, he utilizes a lush nature based palette of pastels and sea colors and dives back to his preferred age group of children for this heartfelt 2009 film.


Ponyo, which translates to “magic” and doubles for the name given to an unusual goldfish caught from the ocean-- is a precious tale of innocent love, friendship, loyalty, and accepting one's duty through a quest and a test we'd usually see assigned to a character much older than our precocious five-year-old protagonist Sosuke (Frankie Jonas).


Drawn to his new pet that he insists taking with him to the school that borders the senior retirement home where his mother Lisa (Tina Fey) works, Sosuke is amazed to discover Ponyo's true magic when she licks a cut on his finger and he discovers that it's healed.


It's only later that evening that he realizes just how magical his new friend really is when-- after somehow the talking fish managed to utter the phrase “Ponyo loves Sosuke"-- Ponyo arrives at their home during a ferocious storm, having transformed into a little girl (voiced by Noah Cyrus).


Perhaps because his sea captain father is once again away from home during the dangerous thunderstorm that finds their island strewn with fallen debris and out of power and partly because as a parent she's used to taking whatever happens in stride, Lisa gives shelter to the fish turned girl who swam away from home.


Knowing that they'll need her back at the retirement home now more than ever, after Ponyo whips the generator into shape and the kids are fed Ponyo's favorite ham in a bowl of Ramen noodles, Lisa reluctantly but bravely sets out among the treacherous terrain once again leaving her son in charge for the evening. Yet unbeknown to the humans, Ponyo's intimidating father (Liam Neeson) and her little-seen but breathtaking mother (Cate Blanchett) are conferring about just what to do to get their daughter back.

Providing her own unique stamp on the screenplay, E.T. and Indian in the Cupboard writer Melissa Mathison was tapped by producing team Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall (Indiana Jones, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) to pen the adaptation for American audiences.


Mathison's involvement is critically as the writing promises that not only do the adults have more of a watchful eye on the children than they've had in Miyazaki works like in the past but that also like some of those works, we're 100% charmed by the adorable main character and his new friend.

In fact, the dynamic shared between the young five year old boy and his goldfish turned gal pal initially echoes Disney's beautiful watercolor sea-filled animated work Lilo and Stitch and Mathison's own E.T.


However, there's a deep mythological subtext to its structure that may hit you either after it sinks in or on a second viewing, right alongside some of the covertly planet friendly messages that make this pre-Earth Day release date prior to DisneyNature's Oceans seem especially fitting.

Executive produced by Miyazaki as well as John Lasseter, this set which includes a plethora of extras for animation lovers also includes the film on DVD to prevent you having to buy it in two different formats.


Imaginatively animated in such a way that the swirling images reflect the ocean even when characters are on land, the waves nearly pour off the widescreen aspect ratio of the film enveloping you. Likewise, the sound comes through richly dynamic into not only the front three speakers and subwoofer but also reflects the idea of being caught in a storm as the sound rain, debris and waves fall just behind you in the usually neglected rear-speakers.


Ensuring you receive a stunning HD cinematic experience in your own home, Ponyo marks one of my favorite Miyazaki films of this era and is an exceptionally transferred Blu-ray. Likewise, it's ideal to watch in a short time period as part of a mini-marathon along with the other three titles from the director released from the Ghibli and Disney partnership including Kiki's Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, and My Neighbor Totoro.



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FTC Disclosure:
Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.