When a curious underwater creature has a chance encounter with a young human boy, she decides she wants to become human, something that puts the entire world out of balance.
What They Say Welcome to a world where anything is possible! Academy Award® winning director Hayao Miyazaki (2002, Best Animated Feature, Spirited Away) and legendary filmmaker John Lasseter together with Disney bring to life a heartwarming and imaginative telling of Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale The Little Mermaid. A young boy named Sosuke rescues a goldfish named Ponyo, and they embark on a fantastic journey of friendship and discovery before Ponyo's father, a powerful sorcerer, forces her to return to her home in the sea. But Ponyo's desire to be human upsets the delicate balance of nature and triggers a gigantic storm. Only Ponyo's mother, a beautiful sea goddess, can restore nature's balance and make Ponyo's dreams come true. Ponyo will delight your family with its magnificent animation and timeless story.
Unfortunately, the one aspect of this release that is not good is the audio, though the majority of non-anime fans will be pretty good with everything. As expected for a North American release, we get the English, French and Japanese language tracks all with a 5.1 mix. Where it goes south – and every edition worldwide goes south in some way for the fan that wants it all done right – is that only the English language track is lossless with DTS-HD Master Audio. The other two languages are given DVD level audio with Dolby Digital mixes encoded at 640kbps. If you want both English and Japanese lossless, you’re going to need to own two editions by importing from Japan as their release gimps the English “bonus” edition, which is essentially what the Japanese track is here. The option provided for the Japanese language is there in the audio menu, but it’s tied to a different video because of differences in opening and ending credits as the English version is a few minutes shorter. That means NO flipping between languages during playback when it comes Japanese. You can flip between English and French though.
That said, we watched the film in English once again because I wanted to hear the mix in lossless format. And I’m definitely not disappointed in it as it’s a great score with a lot of solid directionality and immersive moments throughout. The busy ocean sequences when the storms hit are great and the dialogue throughout has a good sense of placement and depth to it, which is important in a couple of scenes. The rear channels get a very solid workout throughout, but not with big booming moments (though there are a couple) as it deals more with the softer sounds of the ocean and the like. And as always, Joe Hisaishi’s score here is spot on as it plays very regularly throughout and enhances each scene with its subtle moments where you don’t even realize there’s music playing but there is.
Originally in theaters in 2008, the transfer for this feature film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. If there was one area where I knew this release would be flawless, it was with the video and it does not disappoint in the slightest. While I greatly enjoy many modern anime films which are all done digitally, Ponyo harkens back to a time that I love even more with the traditionally animated format of hand drawn animation. This feature proves that it can go toe to toe with a full on modern animation production as everything here is stunning in its detail, clarity and presentation. The colors are absolutely vivid and alive while maintaining a solid problem free feel throughout. There are precious few animated films out there where you can walk away from it unable to find anything wrong with the presentation, but Ponyo is one of them. On our setup, watching in a darkened room at night, it was quite simply stunning to watch the animation play out. This is the gold standard right here.
With a slipcover that’s pretty much identical, the Ponyo Blu-ray release looks very good in a Blu-ray case as the olors work well together. The cover artwork is of pretty standard design as it uses the theatrical poster artwork of Ponyo coming up from below the water on the jellyfish with a look of pure curiosity on her face. There’s a good blue framing around it though I think it would work better without that. A lot of the cover is given over to text, such as the dub cast taking a good chunk of it and the usual Disney logo along with the Studio Ghibli Collection piece which I definitely appreciate since it could get people to look for more of his stuff. The back cover is pretty standard Disney Blu-ray fare with a good summary of the premise of the film and its creative origins with a couple of small shots from the film. The technical grid along the top covers all the material clearly and there’s a good breakdown of the discs extra features as well. The bottom has the usual mix of production credits and logos as well as listing the discs regions (A for the Blu-ray, 1 for the DVD) and other legal bits and pieces. No show related inserts are included nor is there any artwork on the reverse side. I do have to say that I liked the embossing on the slipcover though for the Ghibli section and the appropriate logos as it gives it a nice touch of class that puts it firmly in line with Disney’s own animated features.
I haven’t been particularly enamored with Disney’s menu style on Blu-ray for awhile and this release is no exception, though there are definitely some cute moments. The main overall menu is a pretty bland piece that’s done with a gray background through which you can see some minor sketch elements it looks like. There are a few pictures included here, such as the Ponyo piece from the cover, but the two main picture areas highlight different stills from the film flowing in and out of it that are pretty nice when taken with the lilting and soothing Hisaishi music. The navigation is pretty straightforward, though as we noted in the video if you select the Japanese language track you’re getting a different feature of sorts because you can’t flip between languages. The default language isn’t a surprise in that it’s English but the disc is easy to navigate overall. The thing I liked the best was when playing the movie itself, if you pause it has a really neat little menu bar for it that’s in theme with seashells spread along it and a good sized graphic highlighting that particular chapter.
The extras on this release are about par for the course with what we get with a US Ghibli release so I’m not terribly surprised. One of the best features continues to be the picture in picture storyboards which used to be done on a separate DVD because of the space issues. We get them here on the same Blu-ray and most of them are in full color as well which only highlights the beauty of the process. There’s the usual little lead-in piece, usually done by Lassiter, but this time done by the films’ producers. The extra that I admit to liking the most and have on past releases is the Behind the Studio session which runs nearly forty minutes and does all the background stuff and what it took to bring the film to life while also highlighting the English language cast who continue to show their reverence for all things Ghibli and Miyazaki. An unusual extra this time around that I don’t recall seeing on past releases is a World of Ghibli section. This is aimed more at the younger set as it has things like quizzes and some minor games that are pretty fluffy. It didn’t retain my interest at all and even my kids seemed disinterested in it. All of the extras on here are in HD including the previews and sneak peeks that showcase other Ghibli and Disney releases.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Hayao Miyazaki is certainly one to be quite celebrated as there are precious few Japanese anime directors that get the nods he gets from Western directors, actors, writers and animators in Hollywood. Disney’s distribution of his works is certainly a big positive for fans around the world as these wonderful films get even more exposure than they did years ago. After a few years hiatus from doing any major theatrical work, Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have returned with something very different from what most of his films have been this decade. Prior to Ponyo, his main theatrical works of the last decade have been Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. All very solid films, but somewhat darker than some of what he became renowned for early on in the late eighties and early nineties.
Ponyo is a return to the kind of whimsical and almost fluffy movies he made back then, such as My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Taking a page from the Little Mermaid concept, the feature revolves around a young goldfish name Brunnhilde who makes a fascinating discovery. When she sneaks off of the ship she lives on with her numerous sisters and her human father, she ends up on the surface after sunning herself only to discover a young boy name Sousuke. Sousuke saves her and the two become quite attached. Naming her Ponyo, Sousuke tries to take her home but ends up losing her back to the sea very quickly. But in that short amount of time, Ponyo learned to speak through the magic given to her by her mother who is the embodiment of the magic of the sea and quite beautiful.
From there, it’s a mad dash on Ponyo’s part to become human, to find a way to get back to Sousuke and be with him. Her desire causes an imbalance in the world due to the kinds of things her father has worked on and are unleashed because of her actions. Her father, Fujimoto, has long held a disdain for the human world, so much so that he left it and only speaks ill. His days are spent doing what he can to repair and harmonize under the sea, railing against the way mankind treats the ocean as a dumping ground while also fearing the return of Ponyo’s mother since she’s quite the woman. When he discovers that Ponyo wants to become human, he’s distraught and does his best to ensure that she doesn’t, even if it requires him to go back up on land and try and retrieve her from young Sousuke and his mother.
Like many of the whimsical Miyazaki films, it’s a very light film in a lot of ways when it comes to the story itself. There isn’t exactly a lot of meat here as the focus is intended on the characters and their emotions as they go through everything. And when you deal with a five year old and a young goldfish, you’re not going to find a lot of depth. But what you do get is some simple yet wonderful innocence as two young souls find each other across difficult boundaries and have to deal with it. Much of the focus eventually centers on the imbalance that Ponyo creates as the sea around the small seaside town becomes caught up in a micro typhoon that’s created because of her actions. There’s danger to be had and a bit of adventure as well, but it’s done in that kind of childhood story design that’s highly appealing because like the folks at Pixar, Miyazaki has mastered the way of making it universal regardless of age.
After the serious films that Miyazaki was involved with, it’s refreshing to see him do something so light and free. Even more refreshing is the traditional animation approach used with it as it gives the film a very distinct look, a look more reminiscent of his earlier works that I find so appealing. Like a lot of directors, the first thing you see of theirs is often the defining one for you and for me that was Kiki’s Delivery Service. Ponyo offers up some very beautiful visuals with its use of the sea and the magic that comes from it, giving it a very striking look throughout but never more so than when the waves start to hit the town. The diversity of the sea creatures below is quite well done as many scenes really give you the idea that the sea is truly alive. The characters are all rather standard Ghibli style designs, which is neither grand nor bad, but at least there doesn’t appear to be a direct Nausicaa character found within the main cast.
Like other Ghibli films released in the US and aimed at a mainstream market, it has a pretty solid cast of voice actors that have jumped in to participate in the latest from Miyazaki. Looking back at previous adaptations and the comments made by those who were involved, such as Patrick Stewart and more, there’s a love of Miyazaki that compels that to be involved in any way. The cast here is very appropriate for the most part, though there is a bit of obvious stunt casting involved as well. That’s really just with the leads as you have Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas as Ponyo and Sousuke respectively. Both roles are rather simple child roles so there isn’t a huge stretch required here and both pull off the characters adequately enough. The fun comes from the rest of the cast who get to have a bit more fun. Tina Fey does a good job of conveying a strong but human mother with Sousuke’s mother Lisa while Matt Damon is pretty underused as the seafaring husband Koichi. My real pleasure was in hearing Liam Neeson take on the role of Fujimoto as his voice is so perfectly distinctive for it. And tying him to Ponyo’s mother as portrayed by Cate Blanchett only made me want to see more of the two of them interacting with each other.
Within the larger Ghibli library, I think after a few more viewings that Ponyo will fit in nicely in the middle range of their films that I enjoy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Ponyo and it hits all the right notes. Revisiting this after the theatrical engagement last summer, I’m finding myself slightly more enthused about it as the flow of it worked and I wasn’t paying quite so much attention to who various voice actors were for it. After the serious films that the director has done, I’m glad to see him go back to something simple and something that he appears to have had a wonderful time working on. This is good all ages material done in the best tradition of early Ghibli films like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery service and they will likely have the same impact on new viewers to the world of Miyazaki that those other films had on me twenty years ago. This won’t change your world, but compared to a lot of the anime films that do make it over to the US, this is a welcome title for me, one that I think will be even more welcome as I explore it more in the years to come and try to adjust to the Japanese language track.
Features Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Language, French Dolby Digital 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Japanese Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, World of Ghibli - An Extraordinary Interactive Experience, Behind the Studio, Storyboard Presentation of the Movie
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
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