The latest from the masters at Studio Ghibli (and director Hyayo Miyazaki is "Ponyo", a lovely little tale based upon "The Little Mermaid". The film wound up grossing $15M in the US, but that's still not enough - I just wish more people would find the films from Studio Ghibli, as they are among the most magical cinematic treasures I've seen in recent years. They are intended for children, but as an adult, I remain utterly hypnotized by each new and wonderful Miyazaki effort.
This time around, the story focuses on Sosuke (voiced by Frankie Jonas), a young child who finds a little fish stuck in a bottle on the beach. While at first Sosuke doesn't believe he's rescued the fish in time, it soon revives itself and gives a lick to a cut on Sosuke's finger, which magically heals. The fish also spits with the accuracy of an Archer fish.
Over time, Ponyo begins to transform, taking on a human form and, eventually, winding up as a young girl (voiced by Noah Cyrus, Miley's little sister.) However, when Sosuke visits the local nursing home with Ponyo, one of the seniors warns him that by taking the creature will upset the balance of nature. Soon afterwards, Ponyo's father Fujimoto (Liam Neeson) sweeps her back into the ocean. Formerly a human, Fujimoto now watches after Ponyo and the other creatures.
However, Ponyo doesn't give up, and makes her way back to land in order to meet her old friend Sosuke once again. However, the adventure certainly isn't over yet, as the two must find a way to restore the balance of nature - especially when the Ocean winds up at their door and sea creatures swim down the streets.
The storybook quality of the animation is utterly magnificent - there are images throughout this film that are simply pure magic, such as one moment where Sosuke spots Ponyo running on top of the waves as he and his mother drive along a mountain. There is something so pure and charming about Miayazki's films, and that quality is certainly on display within "Ponyo". The level of imagination is also astonishing - the level of detail in CGI animation is remarkable, but I find the traditional animation on display here breathtaking, simply because of the imagination on display in every single frame.
The storytelling is also like nothing else - this is a simple, fairly quiet story - and yet I can't remember the last time I've been so riveted by a film. Miyazaki is not only a master animator, but a master storyteller. The US voice cast - which includes Frankie Jonas, Noah Cyrus, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Lily Tomlin and others - do a spot-on job with the material.
If parents are looking for a film for their children, this should be first on their list. "Ponyo" is special, magical, heartwarming and absolutely wonderful. I laughed, I smiled, I cried (I'll admit it - a couple of tears) and I loved every single moment of this film.
The Blu-Ray combo pack also includes the DVD version.
VIDEO: "Ponyo" is presented by Disney in 1.85:1 (1080p/AVC) and the results are fantastic. Sharpness and detail are exceptional, and the details of the film's lovely animation are seen crisply and clearly. No edge enhancement is spotted, nor are any instances of shimmering or noise. Colors look simply beautiful, appearing bright and well-saturated throughout the film.
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 (English dubbed), as well as Japanese and French Dolby Digital 5.1. Although some of the film's most intense sequences do put the surrounds to mild use for effects and ambience, this is otherwise a fairly simple, straightforward audio presentation, with a nice spread across the front speakers. Audio quality is terrific, with clear, crisp dialogue and effects.
EXTRAS: The main extras are a series of short featurettes, starting with a brief interview between John Lasseter of Pixar and Miyazaki. "Creating Ponyo" runs a few minutes and includes thoughts from Miyazaki on the inspirations for (and development of) "Ponyo". "Ponyo and Fujimoto" is a short piece on the creation of the two characters. "The Nursery" is a look into this location of the story.
Also included is a short interview with the producer, a featurette on the locations of the film, a look at the score and the US voice cast. We also get the original Japanese trailer and a storyboard version of the film.
There are also three extra bonus features - one taken from each of the other Miyazaki films coming out on this date (one from "Kiki's Delivery Service", one from "Neighbor Totoro" and one from "Castle in the Sky".) "Enter the Lands" is a fun interactive feature that introduces the viewer to the characters from these films.
Final Thoughts: "Ponyo" is so good it's scary. This is a magnificent, deeply imaginative family film that sees master animator Hayao Miyazaki once again (seemingly effortlessly) create an absolute classic. "Ponyo" is entertaining for all ages, but in terms of a family film recommendation - this is wholly and completely a must for all families. The Blu-Ray offers very good audio/video quality, as well as a few extras. Again, this is - without question - a highly recommended title.
The Film A+