Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (Gake no ue no Ponyo) – Japan 2008
Even though I decided to take a step back when it comes to movie reviews, I somehow felt obligated to write a short review on Ponyo since I’ve been following Miyazaki’s latest since March 2007. Unfortunately after all this time and the emotional anticipation towards the film left me a bit ambivalent.
On the one hand there are many just wonderful and heart-warming scenes with a lovable bunch of characters (Ponyo learning how to be human should really bring a smile to everyone’s face) brought to us by some of the world’s finest animators making Ponyo the best looking Studio Ghibli film ever. But somehow I couldn’t help but feel cheated when the end titles suddenly started to roll and left me with a “What, that’s it?” feeling in my tummy. The intentionally simple kept story just ends too abrupt with Ponyo (in a way the perfect mixture of Totoro and Mei) and her new found human friend Sosuke rowing towards their destination they probably don’t even know of without facing any danger, challenges or real character development that should go hand in hand with a journey like that.
Another thing that just doesn’t felt right and is somehow unusual for a Miyazaki film was the fact that everything that happens to the world (chaos, fear and destruction) has no consequences for rebellious Ponyo even though she’s the one responsible. She even get’s rewarded by getting her wish come true without doing anything (except looking cute) to improve the situation. Maybe I’m the only one feeling this way since nobody (not even the affected townsfolk) really seem to care about the ongoing (in a way terrible) situation and the impending destruction of Earth. I guess it’s because of Ponyo’s irresistible cute aura…
All in all, Ponyo is “just” good and fun entertainment for a mostly younger audience, leaving fans of Miyazaki’s former masterpieces (Spirited Away and prior) somehow unsatisfied since it partly lacks the depth, emotional complexity and just this special something that goes beyond just showing wonderful scenes.
Don’t get me wrong, Ponyo is absolutely not a bad film but because of its flaws it just couldn’t make it into my personal Miyazaki Top 5 (in no order: Nausicaä, Mononoke-hime, Totoro, Laputa, Spirited Away). You should take the chance see it when it comes to a theater near you and don’t forget to bring the kids since Ponyo (next to Totoro) is a great way to hook them on anime early