Ponyo is yet another slice of visually stunning, amazingly imaginative, brilliance from the beloved Studio Ghibli and even compared to many of their other movies I'd have to say that this is one of their very best.
Imagine an animated film that mixes a bit of Splash with a bit of Sphere and a bit of Cocoon, with a hint of Aquaman for good measure. That's what Ponyo is.
Things start with someone who looks like a red-heaired David Bowie looking unnaturally comfortable in the depths of the ocean while he does oceanic stuff (not to be confused with Oceanic stuff). A little fish sneaks away and then heads off to meet a little boy from dry land. The little boy (Sosuke) doesn't realise just what powers the little fish has but when Ponyo, for that is the name that the fish takes, licks a cut on the hand of the little boy she starts to change. And that change could mean a lot of trouble as Ponyo is returned to her natural environment and then endeavours to escape in order to meet up once again with Sosuke. The water becomes more and more turbulent, which could affect everyone around Sosuke, especially his seafaring father.
I used to think it was ridiculous when I heard people talking about how Studio Ghibli has put itself in a position to rival, and even overtake, Disney but a film as delightful and gorgeous and constantly inventive as Ponyo reminds me that, yes, there are indeed one of the biggest names in the world of animation today. Watching Ponyo made me think of all of the other little touches that I may not have been as receptive to in other Studio Ghibli movies (with my main concern being whether or not I had underrated the wonderful My Neighbour Totoro - not something I usually consider with a movie that I have given 8/10 to).
The vocal cast all do just fine - I listened to the original Japanese audio and read subtitles although with Studio Ghibli outings you often get an excellent American track and that's also the case here, with people such as Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Cloris Leachman, Lily Tomlin and Betty White lending their not inconsiderable talent to the project.
But, as ever with a Studio Ghibli movie, this is all about the visuals and the heart of the story. Staying on just the right side of sweetness, Ponyo has a very cute pair of lead characters in Ponyo and Sosuke as well as a nice supporting cast. The exuberance of the children, oblivious to what trouble may be brewing around them, is well portrayed and raises a number of easy smiles. Hayao Miyazaki is again both the writer and director here and he simply cements his reputation as one of the best artists working in the field today. Every frame here, just like almost every frame in every other movie that he's ever done, can be taken, framed and hung on a wall.
It's a story of the sea, a story of magic and a story of some wonderful childhood times. Ponyo is just one of the best family movies that I've seen in a long time. In fact, I may watch it again right now.