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An animated adventure centered on a 5-year-old boy and his relationship with a goldfish princess who longs to become human.
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I knew nothing about PONYO when I walked into the theater to see it. I didn't even know it was an animation film. This is always an enjoyable experience because I had no preconceived expectations and we able to watch it with virgin eyes. And the first time you see or do anything in your life is usually an experience to remember.
If only we can watch all films like I did PONYO. But of course we can't because the marketing and interviews get in the way of that. And this site is also part of that problem. But it's a chicken or the egg situation. In order to go see something you must already have known about it first. The reason I saw Ponyo was because no one else on our roster of reviewers was seeing it and it was opening in North America. So someone had to see it and I was the last one up.
For the first 10 minutes this North American had a hard time adjusting to the animation and storytelling because it wasn't what I was used to at all. I am from the generation of the Pixar films so whenever I see animation I expect the Pixar type. Then all of a sudden you get into the world that was created in Ponyo and then you're stuck.
The story of Ponyo is simple. A fish wants to become a human and through the situations that take place, this can actually happen. There is an intimate relationship formed between the fish and a little boy. The type of relationship we all wished we had when we were a kid. This bond is genuine because the fish and the boy don't know any other way to live but just be themselves. There are no games or any life obstacles in their way. Just a boy and a fish learning to love each other.
This is a story that is perfectly suited for children to see but I do worry if they will get into it fast enough. It took me 10 minutes and that is a lifetime for a child sitting in a theater or in front of the TV. Kids want action and talking animals, not fantasy and out of this world experiences. Or perhaps I'm wrong about that because in the last year both WALL-E and UP have become very popular movies. But the Pixar animation is more stylized and finessed. The animation is Ponyo is more rugged and real life. The people in the movie act and walk like real life adults as Pixar animates from more of a idealized and/or romantisized version of the world.
And the storytelling is also different. Ponyo is about a journey of love set in about 36 hours in a town off of the ocean. The story goes in a straight forward direction as obstacles and conflicts occur but more from the context of the theme and not the plot. North American animation movies have many themes present but they are more journeys of a roller coaster experience. You go up and down, spinning around for a long time as your heart and emotions are racing with the action. But you always know no matter how many plot obstacles are thrown your way, you will end up exactly where you started. And the journeys are always in epic proportions set in a span of weeks or even months.
I'm glad they turned this film into a North American vehicle because I believe this is the best animation film of 2009. After watching the film and then talking to Oscar nominated animator Bill Plympton about it afterwards (HEAR HIS PODCAST INTERVIEW, I guess many people don't think the english translations make the film work as well as it did in its original language. Perhaps it doesn't but its a sacrifice that must be made because the film wouldn't of gotten a North American distribution without it. It's not like you can ask kids to read subtitles can you?
Ponyo is the perfect film for kids because it allows them to create their own fantasy while watching the film. Pixar films are almost too good to a fault because their own creative fantasies are so perfect, the kids have nothing else to create within the film itself. It almost makes them lazy in their own creative world because Pixar does it all for them. Ponyo mixes the perfect balance of creativity within the film and allowing enough room for the viewers creative mind too.