2008 // Japan // Hayao Miyazaki // May 9, 2010 // Blu-ray - Disney (2010)
While it possesses neither the unexpected gentleness of My Neighbor Totoro, nor the apprehensive grandeur of Spirited Away, Ponyo surely deserves a position close behind those Miyazaki masterpieces, even if it never attains such perfection itself. Certainly, there are stray elements in this alternately grounded and oneiric fable that never quite fit together comfortably, and the conclusion feels unaccountably limp and vague after all the fretting about a "world out of balance" provoked by our titular fish-girl's giddy escape. On the other hand, Miyazaki's tendency to elide crucial details about his fantasy cosmologies seems far less of a stumbling block here than in his other works, if only because Ponyo privileges unadulterated joy and the subtleties of the parent-child relationship over world-building. Together, Miyazaki's film and Henry Selick's Coraline gave us more thoughtful ruminations on growing up than the rest of the decade's kiddie fare combined. On a second viewing, what's striking about Ponyo from a visual standpoint is the spectrum of drawing styles. Consider the shots above; would you assume that they came from the same film, if it weren't for that conspicuous shock of orange hair? Given how closely Miyazaki himself supposedly labored on the animation, it's hard not to conclude that this diversity is intentional. The cruder, almost doodle-like style seems to predominate when Ponyo is caught in the protean state between goldfish and little girl. The visual approach to Sosuke and a now-human Ponyo at play, meanwhile, invites comparisons to Charles Schultz's precocious tykes, albeit given roundness of form and a richly realized environment as only Miyazaki can.