5 year old Sōsuke finds a goldfish in the ocean by his house and decides to keep her, calling her Ponyo. Wanting to become human, Ponyo is very happy with her new friend. However, Ponyo’s father hates humans and takes Ponyo home but when she escapes and goes back to Sōsuke, she accidentally creates a tsunami which submerges Sosuke’s home town and puts lives in danger.
Ponyo (2010) – Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Running Length: 101 mins
Starring: (English language dub: Noah Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Liam Neeson)
Genre: Animated, Fantasy
Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki once again brings his own unique brand of childhood fantasy to our screens with ‘Ponyo’, a tale inspired (but not based upon) the Hans Christian Anderson story of The Little Mermaid. Studio Ghibli films often have strong environmental messages in them and ‘Ponyo’ is no exception. While it would be easy to simply criticise humanity’s desire to progress at the expense of the natural environment, ‘Ponyo’ nicely balances the notion of all humans having different motivations. None of the main cast demonstrates any disrespect towards nature but the seabed is strewn with litter, giving justification to the hatred that Ponyo’s father has towards humans, but he is also shown to be too extreme in his views.
Ponyo, the little goldfish who wants to be a human girl, also isn’t perfect. Her desire to change causes devastation to the human inhabitants of the town in the wake of the tsunami her magic causes. She, like many children of that age, is too young and naive to have any concept of the consequences of her actions and all she cares about is getting back to Sōsuke. Sōsuke, however, is much more mature for his age. His father, the captain of a ship, is often away from home so Sōsuke and his mother spend much of their time alone. Sosuke’s mother, Lisa, is very loving towards her son but is rather reckless with him, particularly with her driving and when she leaves him to look after Ponyo by himself. All these complex characters create a realistic world in which a fantasy story can flourish, enabling adults to be entertained while the children enjoy the sheer wonderment of the animation before them. The quality of the animation is spectacular. Whether it be the awe-inspiring scale of the oncoming ocean or the variety of sea life teaming across the submerged roads, ‘Ponyo‘ is a visual treat for all ages.
IS ‘PONYO’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
The main concern that adults may have about ‘Ponyo’ relates to a few scares and some scenes of emotional distress. Ponyo’s father, Fujimoto, is a powerful wizard who loves his daughter but is frustrated by her attempts to become human. When he is first introduced, he is a little scary, with wide, crazy eyes and a big, witch-like nose. He believes that Sosuke has kidnapped Ponyo and sends wave spirits (large, blue tentacles of water with eyes), to retrieve her. These moments could be frightening for young children, however Sōsuke and Ponyo never react to these moments with fear and Fujimoto soon becomes much softer and a little comedic so some mild reassurance should be enough to calm any frayed nerves.
A very touching moment shows Sōsuke communicating with his father via a light signal attached to his house. Lisa is angry that her husband won’t be home when he promised but Sōsuke enthusiastically ‘talks’ to his father who is on a nearby boat. The relationship between them is obviously very strong and their communication reveals this. This could potentially affect children who are in a similar situation but the positivity of this scene should alleviate any tension that the child feels.
When the tsunami hits, Sōsuke is very worried about his father but his mother reassures him that he will be fine. Then, when she attempts to drive them both home, the waves constantly threaten to engulf their car. This is quite an exciting and intense scene but as Ponyo is controlling the waves, it is quite clear that the car is in no real danger. Sōsuke later expresses his concern for his father again when there are no lights in the water which would show where the boats are. The audience is then shown where Sosuke’s father is, very far from home but safe.
In order to help the elderly people at the nearby senior’s home where she works, Lisa reluctantly leaves Sōsuke at the house with Ponyo, telling him that she knows he’ll do the right thing as he is now the man of the house. Getting worried about her, Sōsuke and Ponyo use a toy boat (which Ponyo magically makes bigger) to travel across the water. The boat is propelled using a candle and the two children use matches to light it. While there is no danger attributed to this in the film, we feel it is worth mentioning in case any young child sees this and decides to use matches without adult supervision.
When Sōsuke and Ponyo reach Lisa’s car Lisa is nowhere to be seen and Sōsuke gets increasingly concerned for her well-being. He starts to panic and then goes quiet, but has tears streaming down his face. This scene lasts at least 30 seconds and could be distressing for younger viewers. However, Ponyo brings him round and they set off to find her together.
CAN I SEE A CLIP?
While there is some mild peril and emotional distress in ‘Ponyo’, we feel that the ‘U’ rating is appropriate and therefore should be suitable for children of all ages. For younger children (aged 5 and under), it would perhaps be advisable for an adult to be present for the first time that it is watched in case the child requires any reassurance, however once the happy ending arrives and the credits roll, they are bound to want to watch it again and again.
Emotional Distress: 2/5
Fear Factor: 1/5
Sexual Content: 0/5
Bad Language: 0/5
Dialogue: 1/5 (Fujimoto’s hatred of humans is extreme and could be likened to racism, however his concerns are not completely inaccurate, he loves Ponyo and he learns the error of his ways)
Other notes: Deals with themes of love, friendship, the damage that humans can cause the oceans, the harm that hatred can bring to others and the need for children to experience new things.
Words by Laura Record