Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo Blu-Ray Review
Liam Neeson, Tina Fey, Noah Cyrus Voice Roles in Studio Ghibli Film
You can blame Goro Miyazaki for Ponyo.
When Hayao Miyazaki’s estranged son scored a hit with 2006’s Tales from Earthsea (Gedo Senki in Japan), the acclaimed director pulled himself out of retirement to do one more film. Taking 20 months for pre-production and painting countless watercolours, the elder Miyazaki took great pains to ensure that Ponyo would prove to the world (and his son) that he was still the pre-eminent Miyazaki director.
Whether this film will heal or exacerbate the rifts amongst the Miyazakis, Ponyo (Gake no ue no Ponyo in Japan) could easily stand as Hayao’s swan song: it’s a beautiful fairy tale with timeless themes of love, hope and family, mixed with Miyazaki’s familiar concern for the environment.
Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Tina Fey, Frankie Jonas Voice Roles in Ponyo’s English Dub
Yes, Ponyo owes much to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid but simply viewing it in those terms misses the point.
Miyazaki’s film stands on its own merits, and those merits are considerable. Unlike more simplistic tellings of The Little Mermaid, Ponyo doesn’t need a villain to drive its story. Fujimoto – the closest thing this story has to an antagonist – has perfectly understandable motives for what he does: he’s a caring, if overprotective, father. His attempts to shield Ponyo from the human world (a world that has clearly hurt him in the past) unleash disastrous consequences that everyone has to somehow work together in order to undo.
While fairy tales fulfill in important role in showing children that monsters can be beaten, Miyazaki goes one further: that those we might see as monsters have compelling reasons for doing the things that they do. It’s an important lesson for kids.
And that leads us to Ponyo’s other theme: the idea of knowing when to allow one’s children to make their own choices. Whether it’s Sosuke’s harried mother learning that her son is capable of making smart decisions, or Fujimoto realizing that he must let Ponyo fulfill her own destiny, those themes take Ponyo out of the realm of ‘kiddie movie’ and into the realm of family entertainment – meaning it’s truly a film the whole family can appreciate.
Ponyo Blu-Ray Extras
Given the difficulties of promoting the Blu-Ray format in a worldwide recession, Disney’s been smart enough to release Ponyo in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. Those who have the older technology can still watch the film on DVD, with the option of having the Blu-Ray disc available once they can afford to upgrade their home entertainment system. In addition to the English dub, Disney included the original Japanese voice track – with subtitles of course.
This time, producers Frank Kennedy and Kathleen Marshall do the honours of introducing the film. It’s a sweet way of paying tribute to Miyazaki but, like John Lasseter’s introduction for Castle in the Sky, it does come off as preaching to the choir.
Ponyo’s extras format is similar to Castle’s. In the ‘Behind the Studio’ section, Lasseter interviews Miyazaki in one clip while Miyazaki discusses making the film in another. Given how much Miyazaki hates giving interviews, these clips are a real bonus.
Neeson, Fey, Cyrus, Betty White and Jonas discuss voicing the English dub for Ponyo; look for a brief cameo from ‘Partly Cloudy’ director Peter Sohn, who assisted with the voice direction.
‘The World of Ghibli’ is an interactive look at the magical realms Miyazaki’s conjured in his films. It’s identical to the ones in the other DVD sets and the same criticism applies: visiting the worlds of Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away would have been a great idea, since Disney also owns the distribution rights to those films.
Ponyo: A Fine Swan Song for Hayao Miyazaki
If there was any justice, Hayao Miyazaki’s films would be a lot more successful in North America than they’ve been so far. They’re powerful works of art that speak to all cultures, not just the anime ghetto.
While Ponyo doesn’t conjure the same magic as Spirited Away (pretty much his masterpiece), it is nonetheless a worthy addition to any film library. There would be no complaints if Miyazaki decided to close his career with this movie (that said, he’s announced his retirement twice already: once after making Spirited Away, and again after Howl’s Moving Castle. Miyazaki’s a lot like The Who in that respect).
Movie fans would do well to pick up this disc set: not only would they get a fine film for their library but Ponyo’s success on home video would encourage Disney to release the other 4 films in Miyazaki’s catalogue, a win-win situation for everybody.
With that in mind, the Ponyo Blu-Ray gets a 5/5.