The works of Studio Ghibli have been known to entertain many audience members around the world ever since they got their start back in the 1980s. Most of them happened to come from the legendary director Hayao Miyazaki who's made so many wonderous animated films throughout the years that have amazed and wondered audience members with their magic and mystery. Out of his many works, I can easily say that his strangest work to date is his 2008 animated film, "Ponyo", a film that just so happens to be the very first Studio Ghibli film I've ever watched. I remember first hearing about the film while viewing the trailers on a DVD released by Disney and it gave me enough curiosity to check out this film in middle school. I remember really enjoying it then and watching it again, I still very much enjoy it a lot. It's certainly not Miyazaki's strongest film and it is a step backward coming off the heights of his last three animated films, but it's still a wonderful film to watch regardless and another gem in Ghibli's massive catalog.
Deep in the ocean off the coast of Japan, a magical young goldfish Brunhilde (Yuria Nara) swims off from her home towards the top when she ends up getting caught in a glass jar and washes ashore. She is then rescued by a boy named Sōsuke (Hiroki Doi) who ends up being amazed by her after she heals a cut on his finger and names her Ponyo. However, their time together is cut short when Ponyo's wizard human father Fujimoto (George Tokoro) drags her back into the ocean telling her that humans are dangerous scum and should be avoided. This doesn't phase Ponyo who desperately wants to be human and thanks to having licked Sōsuke's blood when healing his finger, she ends up growing arms and legs and becomes a human. While Ponyo does manage to find Sōsuke and his mother Lisa (Tomoko Yamaguchi), to make things even crazier, Ponyo's mishaps escaping her home end up causing chaos that throws the universe into wack and makes the oceans crazy and it's up to her and Sōsuke to fix her mistakes before things get crazier.
So yeah, this is certainly a very strange film just by the premise alone and it's one I found very difficult to explain just by writing that paragraph. As I've also stated at the beginning of the review, this is certainly not one of Studio Ghibli's best films and it also isn't one of director Hayao Miyazaki's best either. However, the strange charm of the film won me over instantly and I was dazzled by it from start to finish. While the story of the film isn't perfect and it is a bit all over the place at times, I still found it very wonderful to watch. It's pretty clear that Miyazaki really wanted to make a film that younger children would enjoy and he takes a lot of inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" and spins it into a unique story about love and friendship. It also does feel like a return for Miyazaki back to the slice-of-life films he helped craft at Ghibli with "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Kiki's Delivery Service" and there are a lot of delightful scenes in the film as we see the people of the town by the sea living their lives as well as coming to grips with the strange phenomena happening around them and trying to make the best out of it. Not to mention, there are a lot of adorable moments with the two young children, particularly as Sōsuke shows Ponyo around the house and she gets to try a nice warm hot drink as well as getting to eat ramen for the first time. Stuff like that made me smile as it was nice to see Miyazaki continuing to make smaller moments that stand out so vividly. The big problem with the story mainly lies in the Ponyo's mishaps causing chaos as it does feel a little bit rushed and it was not as clearly developed as it should've been as it came across more like a minor inconvenience than a major catastrophe. Still, it didn't bother me that much due to the amount of charm the film had. As far as the animation goes, it's another dazzling film from Ghibli.
I think this might be the most colorful film that Miyazaki has ever made. The colors really pop out of the screen and it has a nice vivid warm look to it that really made it feel like I was looking through illustrations of a children's book. The backgrounds looked like they had this blend of pastel and colored pencils and it looked amazing. Even the character designs have a slight cartoony vibe compared to the rest of Miyazaki's films and I really think it helped make the film look very unique among his catalog. It also helps that he continues to give us wonderful large setpieces and sequences in his animation that really looked amazing. One of my favorite sequences in the film is one where Ponyo is racing after Lisa and Sōsuke's car by running on the large waves. It was such a dazzling sequence where the waves sometimes looked like large fish that melted back into water when they touched the road. As far as the characters go, they were all very charming and cute. The biggest scene-stealer in the film is easily the titular character Ponyo and she is super adorable and fun to watch. When she becomes human, she has a lot of this naive and innocent curiosity and it's really sweet to watch her interact with human objects while using her magic to help. Sōsuke is adorable as well as he tries his best to be brave and help out as best as he can. Not to mention, his and Ponyo's relationship was very sweet to watch and it reminded me a lot of Satsuki and Mei's sibling relationship in "My Neighbor Totoro". I also found Sōsuke's mother Lisa also was fun to watch, especially when we see her manic driving which I found pretty funny. I think the one character that could've been improved a bit more was Fujimoto as while I do think his role worked for the film, it should've been fleshed out a bit more as we see him come to accept Ponyo wanting to be human and overcome his hatred of them. Still, I don't think he was a bad character by any means.
In all, "Ponyo" is a very adorable animated film. The story while a bit iffy had a lot of charm to spare, the animation was colorful and vivid, and the characters were very adorable and fun to watch. It's certainly another winning film from Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki and I highly recommend watching it. It may not be their best film, but it has enough magic and a lot of splash to charm audiences of all ages.