Anime Film Review: Ponyo

Ponyo is a film released by Studio Ghibli that was directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The film was released to Japanese theaters on July 19, 2008. Disney has the North American distribution rights for the film, and the English dub was released to theaters on August 14, 2009; the film reached number nine in the US box office charts during its opening weekend.

Ponyo
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Tomoko Yamaguchi, Kazushige Nagashima, Yūki Amami, George Tokoro, Yuria Nara, Hiroki Doi, Rumi Hiiragi, Akiko Yano, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, and Tomoko Naraoka
Run Time: 103 minutes
Rated: G

Ponyo tells the story of a fish-girl who lives in an aquarium in her magician father’s underwater castle with her younger sisters. One day, the fish-girl decides to go exploring, and she ends up stranded on the shore of a small fishing town. A five-year-boy named Sosuke rescues her and names her Ponyo. When Sosuke gets a cut, Ponyo licks his finger and heals it. Ponyo falls in love with Sosuke, but Ponyo is taken by her father’s wave spirits back to her father. Sosuke is heartbroken.

At her home, Ponyo refuses to allow her father to call her by her given name, and she says she wants to become human. Due to the human blood she licked from Sosuke, Ponyo suddenly starts to become human. Fujimoto (Ponyo’s father) manages to return Ponyo to her normal state.

After Fujimoto leaves, Ponyo’s sisters help her to escape. Ponyo releases her father’s magic to make herself human; unfortunately, this magic causes an imbalance in the world. Ponyo is reunited with Sosuke, and the rest of the film follows a test Sosuke must pass in order for Ponyo to remain human and to restore balance to the world.

When you watch Ponyo, you can see that the story had some influence from Hans Christian Andersen’s story, “The Little Mermaid.” Overall, I thought this was a rather sweet story, and that Ponyo is a family friendly film; however, I think it has a stronger appeal to a younger audience than to the older viewers who may be fans of Miyazaki’s older work.

I found Ponyo herself to be an adorable and charming character, and it was amusing to see her as she learns about some of the things in the human world. I also have to say that Sosuke’s mother is not the typical mother character that’s generally depicted in Japanese animation. Since Miyazaki likes to have strong female characters in his stories, I guess he chose Sosuke’s mother to fill this role since Ponyo is a little on the young side to truly be a strong female character.

For this film, Miyazaki chose to make a completely 2D film, and not utilize any 3D computer effects. This approach gives Ponyo a very distinct feel when compared to some of the more recent films that have been produced by Studio Ghibli. However, I believe that the simplicity of the animation really works well with the story being told in the film.

When Disney released Ponyo on home video, the film was released as a two-disc DVD and as a DVD/Blu-ray combo. This review focuses on the Blu-ray/DVD combo release of the film.

When it comes to the video quality of the Blu-ray, I have to admit that I didn’t see a lot of difference when I compared it to the DVD copy of this film I had viewed previously. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s a bad picture quality on the Blu-ray; all it means is that I personally didn’t see any significant differences.

According to the box, the main feature on the Blu-ray is 1080p High Definition, and the bonus features are 1080p High Definition or 480i Standard Definition. The DVD is Widescreen (1.85:1) that is enhanced for 16×9 television. The audio for the film on the Blu-ray disc is in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and Japanese and French 5.1 Dolby Digital. The bonus features are only available in English 2.0 Dolby Digital. The audio on the DVD is available in English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, Japanese and French. The subtitles on everything are available in English SDH, French and Spanish.

The special features included on the Blu-ray are exactly that same as what was included on the two-disc DVD release. The DVD that’s included in this release only has the movie on it.

One of the special features disc is a roughly three-minute documentary titled, “Disc Introduction – Meet Ponyo.” This documentary features Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, who were involved with producing the English dub of the film.

Some of the features are split into two sections: “Behind the Studio” and “Other Ghibli Worlds Preview.” It starts out with five documentaries, which run anywhere from 2-5 minutes, discussing various aspects of producing Ponyo (and some also briefly touch on some of Miyazaki’s other works). These subtitled documentaries feature either Hayao Miyazaki or Toshio Suzuki (the producer). This is followed by a nine-and-a-half minute excerpt from a Japanese documentary about where Ponyo is set. This is followed by a roughly eight-minute documentary about how Joe Hiashi scored some of Miyazaki’s films.

Then, there are the original Japanese trailers (which are two trailers that run for three-and-a-half minutes). The final feature in this menu is “Behind the Microphone,” a six-minute long documentary about recording the English dub of Ponyo.

The “Other Ghibli Worlds Preview” has sections for My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Castle in the Sky. Each one has a short documentary featuring Miyazaki.

There is also “Enter the Lands.” In the menu for this feature, there are elements from all of Studio Ghibli’s films, but only elements for Ponyo, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, and Castle in the Sky can be selected. For Ponyo, there is a character quiz. For the other three films, you see a short promo, and then 3-4 page menus with clickable elements; characters give you character bios, and other items react when chosen.

If you enjoy Ponyo and don’t already own a copy in your home video collection, then you should purchase a copy. In my opinion, it really doesn’t matter which release you purchase, since you’re getting the same material and bonus features on both versions.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of the Ponyo DVD/Blu-ray combo release that my husband and I purchased.

Additional reviews of Studio Ghibli films:

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