Ponyo Review – 23 January 2010 – 4 stars.
This is a review on the Madman release in December 2009 (MMA4299) – Region 4, PAL format.
To begin with: the thing I find with Miyazaki films is that they are always enchanting to watch, yet I always have difficulty remembering what happens in detail after the fact. Maybe that is just me, but each film, Ponyo, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and others have wonderful stories but the details are not overly memorable. Yet, each time I watch the movie a further time I get the same enchanted feeling all over again – it's uncanny, and something I seldom experience with other anime. That is something I find particularly special about the Miyazaki films, the fact that they are easily re-watchable and good fun for the whole family. They also bring up, more often than not, wholesome themes and can be an astute observation of society at the time.
Ponyo tells a story about a little goldfish who meets up with a young boy when it gets trapped in a glass jar. Simple situations at the beginning such as Ponyo spraying Sosuke or others with water are just cute beyond belief. After being returned to the sea she desires to become human from her interactions with Sosuke. Through magical means, she becomes human and is reunited with Sosuke in a storm. However she upsets the order of nature and causes an imbalance where the oceans revert to prehistoric times. A lot of the story then takes in Ponyo's interactions with the human world where everything is new and untried. With obvious references at times to Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid, the story still comes across as original, fresh and unlike anything I have seen before. Through his ongoing interaction with Ponyo, Sosuke must face a final test – will he accept her as she is in her natural form rather than a magically enhanced one? In short, one cannot help but get drawn into the simple yet enthralling story.
Visually the detail, colours and vibrant environments cannot be faulted. This movie looked wonderful on the big screen at the cinema and still looks wonderful on what I'd call the sort-of big screen at home (46" Sony Bravia XBR LCD TV). This has been a great transfer and Madman have done a very good job with the local release. Artwork always appears simple and traditional, yet detailed and the cast have the consistent Miyazaki design characteristics. If there is any computer-generated imagery used in the movie, it is not obvious as everything looks as if it has been traditionally hand-drawn. I'd expect some of the motion sequences with the magical water and fish would have computer involvement but I can't be sure; everything fits in seamlessly. While it may not be a full-on visual feast with giant robots, bikini-clad babes, and lots of computer-rendered graphics, what it does do is work, work well, and tell the story effectively. This is a very good example of where the story of an anime does not get overtaken by the eye candy and probably what I'd expect from Studio Ghibli.
The movie comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 English and Japanese soundtracks. A veritable cast of acting celebrities provide voices for the English track, including Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Betty White, and others. From spot checks to the English track, they deliver a creditable performance and I could easily watch it with the English dub as an alternative. Personally, I stuck with the Japanese 5.1 audio track – it is just my personal preference to listen to the original dialogue. If you saw the English language version at the cinema and are thinking about getting the DVD, do it, and check out the Japanese dialogue version for a change.
Music comes across with a nice symphonic suite of songs that supports the action on-screen and does not detract. You will not see the cast burst into song, which is a good thing in my view unless it is really needed. That said, the music itself isn't overly memorable afterwards.
Extras and Presentation
We get a decent bunch of extras on this release. Firstly, and most importantly, we get an alternative angle presentation of the storyboards. You will get to see the whole movie shown in the colour hand-drawn storyboards. It only goes to show the attention to detail and passion that goes into producing a motion picture like this, and is worthwhile watching in its own right. We also get the original Japanese trailers, as well as trailers for other Madman releases of Studio Ghibli films.
Menus are plain, yet quick and responsive. Static images and no or minimal audio mean that we can get to the good stuff without having to put up with excessive transitions between menus.
The Bottom Line
Ponyo is certainly one that is worthwhile watching or adding to your collection. Typical of the Studio Ghibli presentations, we have a fantastic storyline, likeable characters, and great artwork. I can quite easily come back to this one after a while and still enjoy it – and it can easily be enjoyed by the whole family. I don't think I could call it a classic, though, but I can highly recommend it all the same for something special.
Too hot for eBay!
As I was sorting through items for listing on eBay, I came across some adult product which I couldn't put there. Here is a list of those anime products. Please be aware that you must be over 18 years of age to order any of these items from me! I only have one of each of these. They are available now for immediate delivery.
Blu-ray anime DVDs
For those of you into the latest and greatest technology, here's a list of anime available on Blu-ray in the US and Australia. I will be updating this list about every two months to try to keep it current (last updated May 26, 2011).
Oz anime permanent price reductions!
The good folks at Madman have announced some permanent price reductions on selected Australian anime titles. Sure, these ones have been around for a while, but saving some money is a good thing, right