Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 103 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese, French
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: March 2, 2010
Review Date: February 25, 2010
A lovely fantasy for the entire family (but primarily the younger set) distinguishes Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo. A reworking of some of the basic tenants of The Little Mermaid, Ponyo is long on charm but also long on running time (103 minutes) with pre-school and elementary school children as a target audience. That aside, the animation is alluring and quite arresting, the English voice casting for this version quite wonderful, and the story certainly one that carries a handful of life lessons families can work through after the film is over.
Young fish Brunhilde (Noah Cyrus) gets trapped in a jar and rescued from certain death by five year old human Sosuke (Frankie Jonas). Because he feeds her ham and she tastes his blood when she licks a cut on his hand from his rescue of her, she begins to morph into a magical human whom he christens “Ponyo.” The pair becomes devoted to each other, but her father Fujimoto (Liam Neeson), a sort of ocean caretaker, is concerned that a sea creature living on land will upset the natural balance of things, a prediction all too accurate as tidal waves begin engulfing the village where Sosuke lives with his mother (Tina Fey), who runs a home for the aged, and his sea captain father (Matt Damon) who is often gone for long stretches of time.
Those familiar with the previous magical works of the master filmmaker and Oscar winner Hayao Miyazaki will need no introduction to the pleasures his hand drawn features have to offer. The worlds of his imagination are magical places, and Ponyo captures so much of a child’s view of wonderment with the world around him, but the film isn’t cloying, and some of the nastiness of life (both natural disasters and human-induced) is never ignored or sugar-coated. (Some of the opening glimpses of the garbage laden sea bottom with Fujimoto grousing about humans’ inconsideration of others’ worlds makes a strong, finger-pointing statement. The animation of water with floating sediment in it in a few shots is rather hypnotic.) The uniqueness of vision, however, is quite startling as the giant waves of a tsunami take on the appearance of monstrous sea serpents and giant fish swirling and growing to mammoth sizes. All of the glorious colors of the rainbow are present, but they’re used in very unusual ways: gold, for instance, becoming a symbolic representation of destruction. The screenplay written by the director may have a juvenile bent, but the devotion of the children, their love for their parents under even infuriating circumstances, even its depiction of old people eager to continue to take part in life give the story a universality that all can enjoy and appreciate.
The voices for the English version distributed here by Disney uses two primary children from families of Disney contract players. Both Noah Cyrus (Miley’s younger sister) and Frankie Jonas (a younger Jonas brother) give believable life to the animated characters that children will certainly identify with. Liam Neeson’s deep, threatening baritone works well as the fearsome father of the title character. Tina Fey has pluck and grit as the mother who’s having to do a great amount of the parenting with her husband away for lengthy spells. Cate Blanchett has a queenly air about her as Ponyo’s mother, a kind of goddess of mercy who gives her blessings on the transformation. Cloris Leachman, Betty White, and Lily Tomlin each contribute fun caricatures of the elderly with more life in their shaky limbs than even they suspected.
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Colors are beautifully delivered here, mostly pastel hues but still nicely saturated with no blooming evident. Sharpness is rock solid with no line pixilation observable. There are some glimpses of faint banding with some of the lighter skies late in the film, but the artifact isn’t prominent and doesn’t really spoil the effect of the gorgeous animation. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is very effective combining the lithe and charming music score by Joe Hisaishi with efficient sound effects of ocean waves, wind, and other sea sounds into a very bracing and immersive combination using a better than adequate spread through the soundstage for panning effects (especially front to rear ones). The low end of sound doesn’t quite hit the mark it needs to hit in terms of the storm sequences, so the LFE channel doesn’t get quite the workout it should.
The film can be played with or without a “Meet Ponyo” introduction which runs 3 ½ minutes in 1080p. The film may also be played with picture-in-picture overlaid storyboards for the movie.
Unless otherwise noted, the featurettes are presented in 1080p.
“Creating Ponyo” is a 4-minute interview with director Hayao Miyazaki in which he expresses his philosophy of filmmaking and his perspectives of nature which led him to write the script for the movie.
“Ponyo & Fujimoto” finds the director explaining the origin of the name of the movie’s main character and his ideas about fashioning the father originally as more evil and destructive than the final character ended up being. It runs 3 minutes.
“The Nursery” examines the part that the Ghibli Studio’s nursery had on influencing the way the nursery in the movie is portrayed. This runs for 2 minutes.
“A Conversation with Hayao Miyazaki and John Lasseter” presents the film’s director and Disney’s executive producer discussing the film and Lasseter’s admiration for the director’s other works. This lasts 3 ½ minutes.
“Behind the Microphone: The Voices of Ponyo” shows some of the big name talent recording lines for the English-language version of the movie. There are also brief introductions of the film’s two young leads: Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas. This runs 6 minutes.
“Producers’ Persective: Telling the Story” shows us how the filmmakers start with story sketches which lead to full storyboards and then on to animation. Clips from several of Miyazaki’s films now distributed on DVD by Disney are also shown in this 2 ½ minute vignette.
“Scoring Miyazaki” is a 7 ¼-minute introduction to composer Joe Hisaishi as he explains themes to some of the films he has scored for the director (including clips once again from these works).
“The Scenery in Ghibli: Locations of Ponyo” gives us a brief tour of Seto Inland Sea which offered inspiration to the director before he mapped out the story to his film. This 1080i featurette lasts 9 ½ minutes.
There are two original Japanese trailers which are combined into one 3 ½ minute featurette.
The disc offers three featurettes from the bonus features on other Hayao Miyazaki films distributed by Disney. From My Neighbor Totoro is “Creating My Neighbor Totoro” (3 minutes). Kiki’s Delivery Service has “Creating Kiki’s Delivery Service” (2 ½ minutes), while Castle in the Sky offers up a 2 ¾-minute feature on character sketches from the movie.
The World of Ghibli is a series of interactive maps which allows users to click around the worlds of four different Hayao Miyazaki features: Ponyo, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, and My Neighbor Totoro. The map offers clips from the films, descriptions of the stories and characters from these movies, and games and puzzles based on the films. Watching every feature in this section will take a minimum of 195 ¾ minutes.
The disc offers 1080p trailers for Beauty and the Beast, Toy Story 1 & 2, The Princess and the Frog, Toy Story 3, Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, Tinker Bell, and Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, among others.
The second disc in the set is the DVD version of the movie.
4/5 (not an average)
Ponyo will thrill fans of traditional line animation, and the story has enough interest for both young children and adults to make it a recommended experience. The voluminous bonus features with the Blu-ray will really immerse you in the world of director Hayao Miyazaki making the entire package something animation fans will undoubtedly want to experience.