Ponyo, Blu-ray – 2-disc Combo Pack (2009)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
English Voices: Cate Blanchett, Noah Cyrus, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Cloris Leachman, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Betty White
Studio: Studio Ghibli/Disney 101856 [3/2/10]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 color 1080p HD
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (48K/24-bit), Japanese or French DD 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: The World of Ghibli Visits Ponyo: “Enter the Lands,” “Behind the Studio;” Meet Ponyo; Storyboard presentation of the movie; feature on both Blu-ray and standard DVD
Length: 103 minutes
Another masterful and unique Miyazaki animated feature (his tenth!) that should appeal to everyone from five to 105. He won an Academy Award in 2002 for his Spirited Away, and along with this Blu-ray, three other Miyazaki classics have been reissued on DVD (more later on this). Pixel’s genius John Lasseter was also involved in this terrific production, but it is Miyazaki’s highly individual creation from start to finish, with the addition for American audiences of the above celebrity voices in the soundtrack.
Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of The Little Mermaid – which already resulted in one Disney animation feature – is behind Miyazaki’s story some distance. A little goldfish rescued by the five-year-old Sosuke and named by him Ponyo is the title character. The fish is curious of the life she sees on the shore and wants to be a little girl. But her father – a sorcerer of the undersea – forces her to return home. She wants to become human, and in her search accidently releases some magic elixir of her father’s which starts a gigantic storm and unbalances the whole world. Ponyo and Sosuke are on an imaginative journey of friendship and discovery, and of course in the end the world is saved and Ponyo does become a real little girl. An interest sidelight to the film is its ecological message that humans are ignoring the wonders of the earth and its animals. The way Sosuke originally discovers Ponyo is that the fish has gotten stuck in a jar that was dumped in the ocean with other debris and nearly died.
The animation is gorgeous and inventive, The mix of undersea life and shoreline is well done, and scenes such as Ponyo as a little girl running on top of the waves, which are partly big fish taking her to the shore, are impressive. Miyazaki seems to have a wonderful eye for the little details of life, and makes them fascinating. The magical story might be somewhat confusing to some adults but probably easily grasped by children. Miyazaki is a genius at capturing the magic of childhood on the screen.
The delicate, family-oriented tale here is similar in some ways to Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro, which is one of the three other Miyazaki animations just reissued on standard DVD by Disney. That one had two little girls dealing with the absence of their mother who was in a sanitarium; in Ponyo the little boy and his mother deal with the absence of the father who is at sea crewing a military ship. Totoro is a large round bear-like forest creature who can only be seen by the two little girls. My favorite character was the cat who doubles as a bus – its eyes becoming the headlights and two little red mice supplying the taillights. This one has the voice talent of Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning and Tim Daly. All three of the DVDs are 2-disc special editions, with different versions of “The World of Ghibli,” offering visits to the making of each one of the films.
The other two Ghibli reissues are Castle in the Sky, with the voice of Mark Hamill, Cloris Leachman and others, and Kiki’s Delivery Service, with Kirsten Dunst, Janeane Garofalo and Debbie Reynolds. The first concerns an adventurous search by a teenaged girl and boy for Laputa, a legendary floating castle. They run into air pirates, government agents and other obstacles keeping them from the truth. Kiki is an enterprising young girl who is supposed to follow her training to become a full-fledged witch, but who flies off to find her own place and independence in the world. All three of the DVD sets are excellent in both image and Dolby 5.1 surround sound, and the extras are most worthwhile. Animation usually comes off with great clarity on standard DVD anyway.The Blu-ray of Ponyo does add a further increase in clarity and a more involving surround soundtrack. You also have its standard DVD to watch elsewhere than your main home theater. The timeless story from this master of family animation comes off as a dazzling experience, even if it’s not quite up to the level he achieved with Spirited Away.
– John Sunier