Mar 16 2010
I wasn’t too familiar with Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, knowing him only as a Japanese animator whose works are just now starting to see appreciation in the West. I decided to rent Ponyo, his most recent film, mostly for the reason that Ponyo features no computer generated imagery, instead animated in the traditional 2-D style that Disney had made so popular. With Ponyo, I learned that Miyazaki is rightfully acclaimed as a filmmaker and animator and, perhaps more significantly, the 2-D style of animation is far from dead. Keep reading for the full review; minor spoilers ahead.
Briefly, Ponyo is the rather bizarre tale of a Princess goldfish named, well, Ponyo, who desperately wants to become human, and her relationship with a five-year-old boy named Sousuke. Miyazaki has stated in the past that Ponyo was heavily influenced by Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, although the similarities seem to end with a fishy protagonist who desires to be human. And Ponyo doesn’t look like what you may imagine upon reading the word “goldfish;” she’s essentially a human-faced little creature with a squishy, somewhat amorphous body. Suffice to say, she ain’t Ariel.
As Ponyo is rated G, I found the story interesting – and certainly unique – but I wasn’t captivated by it. Ponyo is certainly geared toward children, so the fact that I was entertained by the narrative can only be considered a plus. The voice acting (for the American version) is solid if not spectacular, with Liam Neeson, Tina Fey, and Matt Damon lending their voices to some of the film’s supporting characters, and Betty White’s voice is unmistakable. What stands out about Ponyo, though, and the reason Miyazaki is so celebrated in the East, is the incredible animation.
Miyazaki animated the film himself, which is truly remarkable when you consider that around 170,000 separate images were created as part of the process. The ocean and the waves in particular stand out, as well as the unique sea creatures that fill seemingly every frame. Miyazaki’s oceans are teeming with life, and no detail goes unnoticed thanks to his amazingly fluid style. What separates Ponyo from other 2-D animated films, however, isn’t so much the animation of its characters, but the bright, beautiful backgrounds that set the stage for every scene.
The backgrounds – I think – are created using colored pencils, and each “set” is as impressive as it is gorgeous. Hours and hours must have gone into the creation of the backgrounds, and Miyazaki’s flowing animation in the forefront makes virtually every cell a piece of art that would be worthy of hanging. The end result is such a creative, beautiful vision that it’s almost – but not quite – distracting. As amazing as the animation is for the Pixar and Dreamworks films, there’s something very human and endearing about the artwork in Ponyo.
Indeed, 2-D animation is far from finished, thanks in no small part to the imagination of Miyazaki. Ponyo makes it clear that the boundaries of 2-D animation have not yet been reached, and I imagine we’ll see more artistic endeavors in this style. Imagine an animated film in which the backgrounds are gorgeous, Renaissance-style oil paintings. Or an animated film in which the characters and backgrounds bleed together in water colors. The possibilities are seemingly endless, something Miyazaki must know.
Ponyo should be seen simply for its aesthetic merits alone, but the film’s story is more than adequate, too. I was impressed enough that I’m going to make it a point to check out more of Miyazaki’s films. I know that Ponyo is actually somewhat of a departure – being that it’s animated exclusively in 2-D – but the sheer creativity that went into this movie leads me to suspect there’s a lot more out there worth seeing.
4.5 out of 5 stars
More Unreal Posts