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March 26, 2010
Finally caught Ponyo last night. Short take: I needed a smile, and I got one that lasted an hour and a half. Maybe a little under par for a Ghibli film, but scads better than almost everything I saw last year. (I’d rank it just below Up and Inglorious Basterds, which really only serves to underscore what a great year 2009 was for movies).

Longer take: the visuals are just as lovely as you’d expect, and totally worth the price of admission. The characters aren’t quite as complicated as Miyazaki’s best, but, you know, much (most?) of the target demographic’s in diapers, so maybe infinite depth of character isn’t in order here. There’s still plenty of trademark Miyazaki nuance, thankfully: the “bad guy” is an ultimately sympathetic–if deeply creepy–concerned parent, and Ponyo herself has a nasty habit of instigating tsunamis.

In fact, for all of the film’s pre-K brightness, a streak of old-school-fairytale creepiness runs through the whole thing. Ponyo only transforms from a weird fairy-fish-creature into a human after drinking a little boy’s blood. Once human, she constantly rides a razor edge between hyperactive five-year-old glee and the sort of elemental wildness that lays waste to entire towns. It’s actually an unsettlingly persuasive vision of a child-god, and it gives a kind of mythological scope to a story that is, ultimately, about little more than a fish and her boy.
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