November 18, San Francisco: Though it was released well into my adulthood, I’ve enjoyed (and re-enjoyed) Ponyo with all the enthusiasm of a child in its target age group. The first time Jill and I watched it, we watched it a second time in the same sitting. It’s one of the few films that we actually bought the DVD for.
Why is that? Well, you start with a base foundational layer of the myth of the little mermaid. But then you cook it in the kitchen of the master chef Miyazaki. You add in the incredible animation, believable yet fantastic, particularly from a child’s eye. And then you layer in a moral ambiguity absent from most American cartoon narratives. This last is key. There is no villain in Ponyo. There is the father, who is anti-human and a demanding father, but for whom, by the end of the film, we are also affectionate.
Another magical piece about Ponyo is the way in which the adult world around the kids adapts so easily to their reality. Five year olds going on grand adventures, unchallenged by the adults they meet along the way. Reality enhanced with a dash of magic and never questioned. Soskei’s mother doesn’t really bat an eye when a lost little girl shows up at their house (nor later when she agrees to take her on as another child to raise).
But why Ponyo over other Miyazaki? Above all else, Jill and I love Ponyo because Ponyo herself is so heart-meltingly cute. Her delight and exclamations over things in the human world just make you giggle. Her favorite thing in the world is ham and anytime it’s served to her she shouts “HAAAAAAAAAAM!” It’s ridiculously cute.
Whether or not you love ham, you will probably love little Ponyo.