Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

Alt title: Gake no Ue no Ponyo

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vivafruit's avatar By on Aug 14, 2009

Story

After several movies from Hayao Miyazaki that have been both narratively and visually complex, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea feels like a return to "classic" form. The film is simpler both in its plot and animation style, having more in common with My Neighbor Totoro than any of the great director’s recent efforts. The difference is so pronounced, in fact, that Ponyo often feels like watching a time-capsuled Ghibli from the late 80s.

The film's story is one of Miyazaki’s simplest yet, and anyone with even a decent grasp of Japanese will be probably be able to watch it without subtitles. However, while this extreme simplicity may end up being a turn-off for many viewers, there is a lot to love in the no-frills story involving the relationship between Sousuke and the adorable Ponyo. In the beginning, the film’s slice-of-life interaction between the two bears a definite resemblance to what was done last year in Kappa no Coo to Natsuyasumi, but the anime diverges considerably after that - and much for the better. From its normal, everyday setting, Ponyo eventually blossoms into a wonderfully imaginative work that is as delightful as it is unpredictable.

That said, not everyone will be able to enjoy the film. One of the common criticisms of Spirited Away is that it more focused on showing cool visuals than developing an intricate storyline, and Ponyo also bears that flaw to a certain extent. Moreover, Ponyo is childish and straightforward, and will hardly convince would-be detractors prepared to dismiss Ghibli as “for kids.” Nonetheless, those who don’t automatically assign simplicity as a fault should heavily enjoy Ponyo’s adorably creative narrative, regardless of their age.


Animation

Visually, Ponyo is a large step down in complexity from that of Howl’s Moving Castle. That's not to say that the animation isn't great, however, because it is. At times, the underwater scenes in Ponyo are so vivaciously animated that the images seem to bubble off the screen. There is a sense of life and wonder that, by comparison, feels all but missing in most productions today. Vividly inventive and at times breathtaking, there are countless scenes that only Ghibli's loving care could create, and discovering them is pure, undiluted joy.


Sound

Disney outdoes itself in its English localization of Ponyo. From the pedigree of the voice actors involved, one would expect greatness, and the endless A-list of stars doesn't disappoint. In particular, Liam Neeson and Tina Fey are fantastic, infusing warmth, humor and energy into roles that are comparatively flat in the Japanese version. As a whole, this is one of the rare English dubs that exceeds its Japanese counterpart in quality.

The instrumental soundtrack, composed by the ever-masterful Joe Hisashi, works wonders at accentuating the action on the screen. One piece that plays during a particularly dramatic flood scene evokes Wagner’s classic “Ride of the Valkyries” to awe-inspiring effect.


Characters

Like many other Miyazaki films, there is a notable lack of villains in the entire production. Characters that are initially menacing turn out to have well-meaning intentions, and ultimately the conflict is not against any one evil so much as it is against abstract entities like pollution or ecological imbalance. This distinct lack of direct conflict is refreshing, and is one of the many reasons for why the director's work stands out from the rest.

As far as protagonists go, the chipper Sosuke is fine but ultimately takes a backseat to the brilliantly developed Ponyo, who manages to delight and endear every time she has a chance. The supporting characters are charming, albeit relatively undeveloped.

Ultimately, this isn't the best cast that Miyazaki has crafted, as it lacks the depth and uniqueness of some of his other works. With the exception of Ponyo herself, the characters all feel somewhat incidental, and some work probably could have been done to fill them out more. Still, the characters are more than serviceable in moving along the plot, and never feel like they're detracting from the quality of the film.


Overall

As a whole, Ponyo is a wonderful anime and the first to truly "wow" me this year. The film is also a welcome return to form for Ghibli after the disappointing Howl's Moving Castle and almost offensively bad Gedo Senki. While Ponyo isn’t quite on the level of Miyazaki’s best works, it’s nonetheless an instant classic that will continue to be loved long after its theatrical release is over.

8.5/10 story
10/10 animation
8.5/10 sound
7/10 characters
8.5/10 overall
AsunaYuuki's avatar By on Feb 2, 2013

This movie gives a bad name to Hayao Miyazaki and Ghibli Studios as a whole. It's plotline is simple and the struggle seems far too easy to overcome. It's an extremely happy-go-lucky story that simply doesn't fit with the typical Ghibli style. It is not only strongly geared toward younger children, but also rather boring at times.

However, as it was directed by Hayao Miyazaki with Joe Hisaishi composing the music, the animation and sound quality are just as good as any other Studio Ghibli movie.

Still, I do not reccomend this movie to anyone who appreciates Ghibli's better works.

1/10 story
9/10 animation
9/10 sound
2/10 characters
3/10 overall
bmcafee's avatar By on Jan 4, 2016

Spoilers, but really, there's not much to give away, its Ghibli's version of Disney's version of the Little Mermaid.

Ponyo is a goldfish who lives under the sea with her wizard father and many goldfish sisters.  One day she ventures to the surface to satisfy her undying curiosity about the world above the surface.  She meets a boy named Sosuke there, and a strong bond of love develops between them.  She gets into her father’s magical elixirs, miraculously acquires legs and goes to live with sosuke on the land as a real human girl, but Sosuke must make a commitment to her, or she will dissolve into sea foam, and the world might end (not really sure about that last part, it wasn't very well explained).

Story: 6.0  This, as the poster says, is the Little Mermaid.  Well, kinda.  Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Sea-Maid was actually a tragedy, and had an appropriately tragic ending.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with doing a Miyazaki version of the Little Mermaid, but I still can’t give it high marks for originality, unlike many of his other movies which had brilliant stories.  Really, the thing I had the biggest problem with was that Miyazaki set everything up to follow the Anderson version, even adding the sea foam element, but at the last minute, the great “test” ended up being nothing but an underwhelmingly simple question.  Lots of buildup, and then the story Disneyed out, lacking the courage to stick with the Anderson ending.  Just like Disney, they take Anderson’s The Little Sea-Maid and tack on a happy ending, but this was obviously tacked on with little effort.  Perhaps if the “test” had been more of an ordeal I could have accepted it. We might as well have been watching an animated version of one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, but everybody lives in the end, with nothing more than a single line of dialogue to explain the difference.

I understand that this was supposed to be a movie for five year olds, but Miyazaki seems to have forgotten that five year olds don’t go to the movies or buy DVDs, their parents do.  This movie, unlike his other works, has little to offer older audiences.  It doesn’t have to end with the mermaid dead, but you could have at least let the tension build so audiences felt relief when the expected tragic end was avoided.

Animation: 8.0  The animation here is not as strikingly beautiful or detailed as Spirited Away, but it’s still gorgeous.  The character designs are typical for Ghibli.  Perhaps the best of the visuals appears about half way into the movie, where Ponyo has acquired the magic she needs to become human and she runs along the surface of the stormy ocean to get to the land and see Sosuke.  It’s impressive, and worth watching the movie if just for this sequence.

Sound: 7.0  The Japanese cast definitely put more emotion into their performances.  I wish Disney would hire more professional voice actors rather than going for big names.  Not that Liam Neeson or Cate Blanchett did a bad job.  Actually I enjoyed their performances.  It’s just that they are so recognizable, and also that there are so many truly great voice actors and actresses out there that could have done this, possibly better.  A good example is during the scene where Sosuke and his mom are driving in the storm, trying to get home from the Senior Center while the waves crash around them.  Tina Fey’s performance is good, but Tomoko Yamaguchi was superior, vocally conveying the peril of her situation where Fey sounded more "in control."  The music was almost entirely orchestral, and fit the feel of the movie.  There were very few vocals.  The credit song, “Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea,” is cute and fun.  Overall, it’s a good soundtrack for the movie, but not one I would buy.

Characters: 7.0  Characters are where Miyazaki has always excelled.  He is such a keen observer of human behavior, especially that of children, that his animation captures them like magic and this is no exception.  However, when re-creating the story of the Little Sea-Maid one character was left out, and that robbed the story of its necessary tension.  In the original, there is another girl.  The Prince has to choose between the Mermaid and a human Princess.  It’s a triangle, and that is of course why the ending fell flat.  Of course he was going to choose Ponyo, there was nobody else.  Also, Sosuke has a dad who is captain of a ship.  The part seems to have been added just so Matt Damon could have half a dozen lines in the film.   Add to this that earlier in the movie, Fujimoto, Ponyo's dad, states that he wants to rid the world of all the nasty humans, but now he's fine with his daughter becoming one and going off to live with them.  That's a hell of a flip-flop to let go completely unexplained.  Unfortunately, Fujimoto's miraculous change of heart seems to be the only development we get from any character in the show.

Overall:  7.0  There were moments of pure magic in this film, as there are with all Miyazaki films.  It was beautiful.  While there may have been issues with the story, the animation and sound were still worthy of a Ghibli film, and that makes it worth watching.  I recommend it, but only to those who have already seen all the others.  If you still haven’t seen Spirited Away, Mononoke Hime, Nausicaa, or My Neighbor Totoro, see those first.

6/10 story
8/10 animation
7/10 sound
7/10 characters
7/10 overall
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triplestrike's avatar By on Jun 1, 2011

HAM!

Story: Interesting. Yeah, interesting is the correct word. Pretty different, and odd but cool! It's intriguing and you may be a little confused at times but you still want to keep watching and find out.

Animation: Looks good, no complaints here.

Sound: Nothing super fantastic. 

Characters: Most of the main characters and character development are within children, so make of that what you will

Overall: It is a good watch, in my opinion not worth buying but intesting and creative, innovative and artisitc, a pretty fun watch. HAM

8/10 story
7.5/10 animation
7/10 sound
7.7/10 characters
7.8/10 overall
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mzinna's avatar By on Apr 29, 2011

Not as in depth and imaginative as others by Miyazaki but still good..................................................................................................................................................................

8/10 story
9/10 animation
8/10 sound
8/10 characters
8.3/10 overall
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