Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is more Totoro than Princess Mononoke. It’s aimed more towards the younger crowd, but still so visually amazing and mindblowing because Ponyo was done completely with traditional hand-drawn animation. Miyazaki proves that 3D animation is never a replacement for 2D, just an alternative. Miyazaki’s consistence as a director and slow, methodical mastering of a genre that he has regularly redefined means that any new material of his is now treated as an event rather than a mere release. But this, and other Miyazaki megahits, are anything but lowest common denominator entertainment. Even though his heroines are usually in their early teens or younger, their adventures unfold in rich visual and narrative sequences, with everything from personal memories and contemporary environmental concerns to ancient Japanese mythologies and fantastic European cityscapes tossed into the mix.
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is an enchanting film which tells a beautiful but simple story. The story begins as Ponyo attaches herself to a jellyfish and slowly rises to the surface of the ocean. Ponyo is nearly caught up in a fishing net, and nearly dies when a glass jar gets stuck on her head. Ponyo is rescued by 5 year old Sosuke, who resides on a cliff above the ocean and promises to protect her always. Eventually, Ponyo’s sorcerer father manages to recapture his wayward offspring. But Ponyo, both a willful child and an ungovernable force of nature, rebels against her father’s wishes and dreams of living among humans. She uses the magical powers to transform herself into a human and returns to the surface to seek out Sosuke.
I doubt Ponyo will garner the same acclaim as Spirited Away; but little kids will eat this stuff up. The rich symbolism and the shadowy frisson of threat in, say, Spirited Away is more or less absent from this film. Like I said before, the story is extremely simple. Girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy (and vice versa), and they try to overcome all odds to stay together. Along the way, Miyazaki dispenses small nuggets of wisdom, just the right size for fidegty kids and jaded adults, without being too preachy.
However, this is another memorable and wondrous film from an animation master who, at age 67, is at the peak of his game. U.S. moviegoers can check out this film in theaters August 14th, 2009. I don’t throw the word “genius” around lightly. With Ponyo, it becomes clear that not only does Miyazaki appear incapable of making a film that is anything less than revelatory, but that as he approaches the old age of 70, he is still making films with the exuberance and passion of a young man. Ponyo, the magical film will definitely cast an indelible imprint in the minds of all who will watch this beautiful creation. Rush to the theaters to see this one.