Studio Ghibli films don't really get the love they quite deserve here. But anime films seem to suffer more here generally than they do over there. Ponyo managed a rather large cinema engagement in the US, with 300+ cinemas showing the film. Here too Ponyo seems to be enjoying a slightly better engagement than other Ghibli films but still not enough to cover all corners of England. Certainly where I live the usual Arts Picturehouse is showing the film, but Cineworld and Vue are only bothering in so many places. Maybe its something to do with the fact Ghibli is distributed by Optimum Releasing here rather than Disney?
In any case, regardless of how available it is Ponyo is a charming adaption of the Little Mermaid with quite the twist given to it in usual Ghibli fashion. The story is about a fish born to a sea wizard and a sea giantess with a curious nature whom ventures to the surface and is caught in a bucket by a little boy named Sousuke. In the process he cuts himself and Ponyo licks his wound clean, giving her the ability to change partially human, she's caught by her father and repremanded, only for her to further defy him and use his magic to become fully human in the process. Eventually after consulting her mother, her father relents to testing the bond of Ponyo and Sosuke.
Ponyo feels quite fresh yet familiar, its a bit of a throwback to Totoro with its somewhat preschool aim, though theres a bit more conflict in Sosuke's world compared to Mei and Satsuki. Along with a father thats often out at sea, he has to deal with cranky old ladies and a large flood as an after-effect of Ponyo's assisted transformation, not to mention the little tests put their way. But Sosuke is quite the resourceful lad and easily accepts the transformed Ponyo and the things happening around him even when he fears for his mothers safety. Yet somehow the whole thing feels as "safe" as Totoro does bar a few moments but maintains the warm fuzzy feeling throughout.
Perticularly breathtaking, specially on the big screen, is that of Ponyo's transformation and emergance. Ponyo's siblings help pitch in by transforming into huge watery fish type waves that the newly transformed girl dashes upon the rests of, jumping from wave to wave, all in the hopes of getting Sosuke's attention. It's just a fantastic and breathtaking moment. The subsequent scenes of Ponyo getting used to human life and the calm acceptance of not only Sosuke, but his mother are surreal yet heartwarming and somehow it becomes easy to accept a fish can become a girl and that toy boats can suddenly become huge. Post flood everything becomes a little crazy but somehow it doesnt feel a jot out of place. The only thing that feels a bit weird is how everyone expects Sosuke to commit to Ponyo. But considering everything going on, maybe its not that far-fetched after all?
The dub once again is commendable for a Disney dub, Noah Cyrus gives an adorable and suitably energetic performance as Ponyo and Frankie Jonas is a good straight man for Sosuke. It stays true to the script and generally the dub acting fits. This is also the first time since Kiki's Delivery Service that Disney have dubbed the credits song, going with a translated pop version of the ending track, theres also a more techno remix that sees the credits out which sticks out like a horrible sore thumb in comparison to the rest of the film. Other than that one faux pas the rest of the dubbed film is flawless.
It wont win over everyone, particularly those not used to anime (though this is a somewhat more "normal" film as Ghibli titles go). But the dub isnt all that bad if your willing to try, certainly the PR strategy used for the lead voices doesnt do it any harm in the slightest. Certainly those that are kids at heart or fancy some magical whimsy will find a lot to love in Ponyo.