Directed by Hiyao Miyazaki
A visual tonic, Hayao Miyazaki’s hand-drawn adventure Ponyo underlines how starved for living color and grace of movement the average movie can leave you. Unabashedly a children’s tale but nominally more plotted than the master animator’s My Neighbor Totoro, the serenely weird saga begins when boy meets goldfish. Little Sosuke takes Ponyo in as a pet, unaware that she belongs to the hundredstrong fingerling brood of a haggard Carnaby Street sea lord and his estranged phantasmagorical queen of the deep. As she sprouts limbs and turns into a rambunctious girl, and blubbering waves whirl in tumult, and fiery Mom doesn’t bat an eyelash, we’re clearly in a child’s world where wonder, danger and daily life naturally blur. By turns calm and normal, Teletubbies trippy, and Miyazaki fantastical, the cel animation is rendered with a mix of artful childlike outlines and pastel backgrounds, leading to moments glorious (a sea-critter overture, Ponyo’s marshaling of the waters) and tranquil (a car headlight ghosting in and out of a distant forest). Throughout, lovely little-seen shades of color are supported by artful, original sound.
With unobtrusive revoicing, Disney is releasing Ponyo on more screens than any previous Miyazaki title (his last was Howl’s Moving Castle), in the hopes of fostering the discovery that Spirited Away didn’t rouse among general U.S. audiences in 1999. It’s an easy sell to get wrong, especially given the story’s pacing and the way its resolution is treated as an afterthought, but a lovelier daydream you won’t find this summer.
Opens August 14