Miyazaki's eponymous little heroine and Sōsuke conjur up simplified bliss in the mesmerizing "Ponyo"Hayao Miyazaki's latest work, like Disney's "The Little Mermaid," is based on the Hans Christian Anderson fable of a sentient fish that wants to be fully human. The difference, of course, is that in "Ponyo" ("Gake no Ue no Ponyo"), Miyazaki's eccentric creativity is in top form. It is at once more over-the-top and yet more simple than Disney's "The Little Mermaid," although both employ the same, soothing pastel color palette.
There's a strong sense of serenity here, which is of course derived from the affecting Anderson story but also largely from Miyazaki's child-like hand-drawn animation. The story remains essentially the same: A willful little fish - named Brunhilda, but renamed Ponyo by Miyazaki's young hero, Sōsuke, who rescues it - is determined to remain landbound, even though the pull of the sea is great. Assimilation is never easy. It has to be earned. And one of the more humbling features of "Ponyo" is how hard its plucky little heroine works towards that goal.
(Ponyo's name, according to Wikipedia, is based on Miyazaki's idea of what a "soft, squishy softness" sounds like when touched.)
Some of Miyazaki's past films have been released here in both their original Japanese versions and their American-language adaptations. So far, only the John Lassiter-supervised version of "Ponyo" is available here, although it's difficult to quibble when the vocal talent is so extraordinary. Noah Lindsay Cyrus and Frankie Jonas enrich Miyazaki's visuals with their astute line readings as Ponyo and Sōsuke, respectively, but it's Tina Fey who anchors the film with her expressive turn as Sōsuke's working mom.
Of course, they are all inspired by Miyazaki who, apart from his inimitable visuals, makes excellent use of a series of quirky ambient sounds, as well as Joe Hisaishi's music - a major score that not only keeps the film always moving but often soaring.
If there's a soundtrack album from this movie, I want it. Now.
"Ponyo" is simply bliss made simple.