Quick Take: Miyazaki amazes again with visual poetry that make kids feel like they're riding this story's gentle tide.
The new animated movie Ponyo unfolds like a child's imaginary road trip. A young boy adopts a fish from the sea -- the fish falls in love and wills herself (against her father's wishes) into human form. The two become fast friends, proving their devotion during an adventure in a candle-powered toy boat on the open sea after a storm.
It's a warm-blanket kind of story that you could imagine a child pretending with a best friend on a lazy summer afternoon on the beach by the sea.
But filmmaker Hayo Miyazaki doesn't stop at showing you stuff. Somehow, the Academy Award winner (Spirited Away) makes his movies breathe, like when the ocean swells, or a storm roars and you swear you can feel the breeze outside.
Even more amazing, Miyazaki accomplishes this without a single toy. No 3-D. No CG. No big-budget special effects. Just dreamily drawn pictures with a kind of quiet magic (and really magic's the only word) that floats you away. Did kids get it? The boy next to me leaned forward several times as if to sniff the sea air, and reached out as if he could actually sweep the water with his fingers. His mom likened it to jumping inside the world's best storybook.
Translating the movie (an interpretation of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid which should be, by now, Disney's de facto good luck charm) must have been a tough job. But, Disney did so with finesse, getting the feeling -- what one Pixar staffer referred to as interpreting poetry -- as well as the words. The finished dialogue gets a big boost from a constellation of big-named stars, like Tina Fey who manages to make Sosuke's mom comically frenzied without turning her into, well, a cartoon.
Ponyo is simply a marvel of an adventure.
And it makes the whole trip without the help of a single toy.
Kids Will Like:
Ponyo's gentle humor is the kind kids adore. Who knew ham could be so funny? Wondering if your child can spell? You'll find out when Ponyo talks to his sea-faring dad with a light beacon.
Parents Will Like:
It's so lovely, low-key, and different, plus it's got a nice message about our environment. You'll leave the theater with a beaming smile. Characters may be animated, but they're as real as can be. First playdates and lazy naps will no doubt jog warm memories from your own family's past.