Reviewed by: Max Crawford

"While one expects a strong environmental theme in a Miyazaki work, it has never before been so heavy handed and crude."

Introduced at the Glasgow Film Festival as Miyazaki's latest masterpiece, this is a film that raised a lot of expectations, including my own. Unfortunately, it didn't meet them.

The animation, unsurprisingly, is beautiful. The celebration of sea life in the opening scene is a stunning visual spectacle. Watercolour and pastel style backdrops exhibit the level of fine detail that has become a Studio Ghibli trademark. It provides a hard contrast with the animated cells, but this becomes less problematic as the film progresses. The score is good, if a little underwhelming, with nothing particularly memorable, and the voice acting is well handled. Tina Fey, in particular, acquits herself well.

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Superficially, then, everything works, but the film falls down when it comes to substance. The story was inspired by Disney's version of Hans Christian Anderson fable The Little Mermaid. It's a classic tale: boy meets fish, boy loses fish, fish becomes girl, boy gets girl back again, boy's love for girl restores the balance of nature, fends off the moon and thereby saves the world from destruction. While the film is peppered with good ideas, the overall plot is nonsensical and unengaging. The outcome is never in doubt and it's distressing to see Miyazaki wallowing in sentiment.

While one expects a strong environmental theme in a Studio Ghibli work, it has never before been so heavy handed and crude. Films like Pom Poko and Princess Mononoke are so effective because of the personal scale of their catastrophes. By invoking the threat of apocalypse, Ponyo loses any sense of small-scale human tragedy, and as such fails to be affecting.

Despite its flaws it's difficult not to be charmed by this film. Miyazaki's signature touches give us endearing characters and illuminating insights into everyday life. The film is well paced and enjoyable provided you don't worry too much about the narrative. Young children will be delighted by it.

Reviewed on: 12 Feb 2010
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A five-year-old boy meets a magical fish who longs to become human.
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Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Writer: Hayao Miyazaki

Starring: Yuria Nara, Hiroki Doi, Jôji Tokoro, Tomoko Yamaguchi, Yuki Amami, Kazushige Nagashima, Akiko Yano, Shinichi Hatori, Tokie Hidari, Eimi Hiraoka, Rumi Hîragi, Tomoko Naraoka, Nozomi Ohashi, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Akihiko Ishizumi

Year: 2008

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: Japan

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