So, my daughter is currently going through a Studio Ghibli phase, something I wholeheartedly encourage. But the thing is, my own knowledge of Studio Ghibli kind of peters off after the 90s, so when I pulled Ponyo out of her movie box, I had no idea what we were in store for. A horse movie perhaps? Pony-Oh. You know, like that Spirit movie She had me watch a while back?
Boy was I way off.
Ponyo is the story of a fish who becomes a girl, to stay with the humans on land. As a goldfish, she was captured by a five-year-old boy named Sosuke. But when she’s returned to the sea, she just wishes to come back to him, so she chooses to transform into a little girl… But that’s not without consequences. When one of her kind comes to land, they are followed by storms and tsunami and destruction. She must make a choice whether to return to the sea, or to give up magic and remain human. The wrong choice however, will result in her fading away into sea foam.
Despite that simplistic explanation, this is one of the weirder Jubilee stories… At least from an imagery standpoint. Indeed, to accommodate the detail and precision of all the sea creatures present in the storm, there is more art produced for this movie then any other studio Ghibli project to that point. Indeed, the opening alone, a mere twelve seconds, involving massive schools of fish and creatures, took 1,613 pages of conceptual sketches to develop. That’s strange, because it doesn’t look like it. Or the background so beautiful, but that’s just what they are. Their backgrounds… They fade away. The characters on the other hand, frequently look a little more simplistic than usual, and they are in dire need of an additional layer to shade them. Without it, they end up looking flat and a little boring. It’s strange, if I didn’t know better, I’d say they spent all their money on the backgrounds and couldn’t afford to finish the film.
It’s a problem too, because when you’ve got such a simple straightforward story as fish turns into a girl, and boy is searching for his mother, you really have to lean into the imagery in the art. We get some fun little side quests, but everything still feels a little thin.
Nevertheless, it’s fun to listen to Liam Nielsen, Betty White, and Lily Tomlin voice characters here. There’s a few different mythologies you can see them drawing from, elements from the Little Mermaid and themes from Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungen. and there’s definitely a good film in here somewhere. However, it is one of Julie’s weaker attempts… And the box office reflected that. It’s a good film for Studio Ghibli completist, I’m certainly not trying to steer you away from it. Go in for the genre, and you won’t be disappointed.