August 27, 2009

300 Words About: Ponyo

As a stand-alone painting this is beautiful, as a feature-length film it's incredible...

I probably should have kept my mouth shut a few months ago when I whined, " I fear we're going to lose the human element to animation". I knew both Ponyo and The Princess and The Frog were still on the way, but
it seemed as if Coraline and Sita Sings the Blues were swift hammer strikes on the nails in the coffin of hand-drawn animation. After recently seeing Ponyo, I glad to have a renewed hope that someone, somewhere will continue to do this kind of work, and hopefully, Hayao Miyazaki will be one of those someones.

Honestly, I didn't really care for the Little Mermaid-inspired story of Ponyo (it seemed a little flat), but the nice thing about animated films, especially those from Miyazaki, is that the story can take a back seat to the storyboards. In this case, more than 100,000 vibrantly colorful, delicately hand-drawn storyboards. The resulting movements are so engrossing that you wish you could watch some sequences in slow-motion, or at the very least display some of the frames in art galleries.

For me, watercolor backgrounds and landscapes provide a nostalgic aura of fantasy and imagination, the sense of a place that that looks fuzzy on the screen but is perceived in your mind to be vividly clear and full of life. The sharp edges and modern flourishes of Pixar films are dazzlingly realistic, to be sure, but it's only in the hand-drawn style of Ponyo and older Disney films that my mind reverts back to childlike wonder. Both are enjoyable experiences, but the hand-drawn style has much more of a comfort food/warm blanket effect on me.

Which is why it will be sad if Ponyo doesn't do well at the box office here (it's already been another smash hit for Miyazaki in Japan), despite the voice talents of Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson and Cate Blanchett. American children are missing out on the experience of seeing something that doesn't resemble a video game; it draws them further into the story and, in my opinion, probably does more to bring out their own artistic interests. After all, all of those Pixar people grew up watching hand-drawn Disney movies.

If you haven't seen a Miyazaki film and you're curious about what to expect, feast your eyes on this:


  1. okay, we're sold. on our way to work, afterwards will seek-out and enjoy: PONYO!

    thank you for the swell review and preview. :-)


  2. Thanks for the visit, BES - hope you enjoy the movie!

  3. Daniel:

    I'm very happy this one worked for you, and that your faith has been renewed. While I have stated elsewhere that I did not consider this the absolute best Miyazaki, I still feel it's a dazzling work, and one that raises the spectre of animation on an international level. The pastel-colored cells, Miyazaki's trademark is wedded to an endearing story with startling emotional resonance. Lovely and enthusiastic capsule treatment here.

  4. Thanks, Sam. I don't think it was his best, either, likely because I didn't appreciate the story as much as Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle. But the innocence of childhood and imagination was on great display as usual. Little weird for a romance between kids, but this is still a great movie for children of any age.


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