Ponyo, the latest from acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro), is now available on Disney DVD and Blu-Ray, and it is one that every parent should go out and purchase immediately. Easily one of the better movies of 2009, Ponyo is an imaginative, intoxicating adventure the whole family will enjoy.
Inspired by "The Little Mermaid," the basic premise may sound similar, and yet its execution is world's apart from the classic Disney version of the Hans Christian Andersen story. The movie is about a boy who finds a goldfish, befriends it and names it Ponyo. Little does he know that Ponyo is a magical fish, a daughter of a powerful sea sorcerer. After her father forces her to return to the ocean, she escapes to reunite with the boy, transforming herself into a human in the process. However, her reckless attempts at humanity bring with her a powerful storm that threatens to drown the world.
As with Miyazaki's other works, Ponyo is traditionally drawn with a style unlike anything typically seen in America. The art is very plain, almost crude, and yet the final product is beautiful and enthralling. Everything, from the rolling waves to Ponyo's bug-eyed expressions, bring the characters, story and setting to life.
Though it does tell the same general story of The Little Mermaid, it is far removed from the Disney movie. There aren't any talking lobsters, and it isn't a musical; friendship is the focus, not romance; and the plot in general stands on its own. Despite its G-rated simplicity, the movie presents a surprisingly rich and realistic group of characters; everything, from how the mother acts to the way the boy pulls his shorts up when wading into the ocean, touches on elements we can all relate to.
Ponyo is a near flawless film, and it's a shame it didn't receive more recognition during its theatrical release. 2009 was a great year for animated films and Ponyo was simply overshadowed by more popular fare such as Up and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Still, it comes highly recommended.
Disney is selling the film in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, though it lacks the same amount of features Disney's other animated releases often receive. The Blu-Ray includes an interactive "experience" where viewers can meet the characters and learn more about the production, including through an interview with the director. Other features include a storyboard presentation and introductions by the producers.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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