Hayao Miyazaki is one of those rare directors who can take the magic of nature and childhood, then somehow capture it for the screen.
And his tenth Ghibli movie "Ponyo" is no exception -- it's a reimagined tale of a "little mermaid" who wants to become human so she can be with a little human boy she loves. It's a simple story told in a simple manner (occasionally TOO simple), but it has a lush oceanic beauty and an innocent sweetness that really capture your heart and imagination.
A little boy named Sosuke finds a tiny "goldfish" with a human face on a beach, trapped in a bottle. He names her Ponyo, and goes to great lengths to care for his little fishy friend. But then the sea wizard Fujimoto, Ponyo's overprotective dad, appears and snatches Ponyo back into the sea -- and she decides that she wants to become human so she can be with Sosuke. Having tasted a bit of Sosuke's blood, she sprouts chickenleggy limbs and starts to change, but inadvertently disrupts a magical well that causes the moon to drop, the seas to rise over the land, and prehistoric magic to rise once more.
Sosuke and Ponyo are delighted to be reunited, despite the raging storm that is engulfing the city and causing ships to go missing. While the children go searching for Sosuke's missing mother, Fujimoto struggles to fix the balance of nature before the entire world is destroyed, with the help of Ponyo's sea goddess mother. The only hope of restoring balance lies in Ponyo and Sosuke -- and if Sosuke's love is not true, then Ponyo will be reduced to sea foam.
Compared to Miyazaki's other movies, "Ponyo" is a very simple story -- it's basically a boy-meets-fishgirl story, with lots of children running around being adorable and exquisite looks at the sea. Even its theme is simple -- the story is dependent on on true selfless love and how it knows no boundaries of age, experience or even species. Not to mention parents letting go of their children.
If there's a downside to the story, it's the lack of internal conflict. Example: the "test" that Fujimoto and the sea goddess use for Sosuke... well, it's far less impressive than it seems.
And Miyazaki does not disappoint animationwise -- he conjures a waterworld of luminous sea life, sparkling ships, prehistoric creatures, finned submarines and a town that has been swallowed by the sea (complete with boats floating over the rooftops). It's an exquisite piece of work that turns the ocean into a magical, otherworldly realm where wizards work in coral-encrusted towers and shimmering jellyfish take little mermaids to the surface.
Ponyo herself provides a lot of the movie's charm -- she's effusive, hyperactive, has a babylike fascination with the human world ("HAM!"), and an array of handy magical powers. Sosuke is a likable lad who is fascinated by Ponyo and her world, and Fujimoto makes a enjoyable anti-hero -- spindly, gaunt and with a mane of messy red hair, he's like a rock'n'roll embodiment of parental stress.
The extras are pretty promising on this blu-ray, and they seem to be the same as the regular DVD edition's extras (rather than stiffing or one or the other group of buyers) -- a slew of documentaries and interviews (including with Miyazaki himself), storyboards, explorations of the story's background, et cetera. And most striking is the "World of Ghibli," an interactive creation which apparently allows people to "enter" the worlds of various Miyazaki movies -- "Ponyo's," "Kiki's," "Castle in the Sky's," and so on. And given how luminous and lush the colors are, the movie itself should be spellbinding visually.
"Ponyo" is simpler and more childlike fare than most of Miyazaki's past films, but it's still a sweet and lushly-animated piece of work. At the very least, it will transport you to a magical childhood.