It's been a good year for animation. Early in 2009, we had the phenomenal Coraline, a technically brilliant stop-motion that provided a chilling horror experience without being inappropriate for its target audience. Later, we received Up, a melancholy but still excellent movie that lives up to the high standard that past Pixar productions have set. Now, we have the wonderful Ponyo, the newest title from the most respected animator in the world today, Hayao Miyazaki.
Ponyo's plot is very heavily influenced on the classic tale of The Little Mermaid. It's a simple tale: the fish, Ponyo, meets a human boy, falls in love, and becomes a human. There are a few complications — Ponyo's father dislikes humanity, Ponyo's transformation upsets the balance of nature — but on the whole, the plot never gets much more complicated than the simple friendship of two children that forms its base.
Ponyo is geared towards smaller children — my 8-year old and 20-month old daughters both greatly enjoyed it — but there's much to be enjoyed by older viewers as well. The animation quality is phenomenal, with a heavy storm providing many especially spectacular moments. Characterization is well done and the film is filled with gentle humor that does not rely on awkwardly inserted pop culture humor like so many lesser animated films use.
The English localization of this originally Japanese movie is respectable. Of all of the voice actors, the only one I had any issues with Liam Neeson, not because he did a bad job but because his voice seemed at odds with his character's appearance. That's the only minor quibble I had; the rest of the cast fits perfectly and does an excellent job with the voices.
All in all, I highly recommend Ponyo to children as well as adults who appreciate beautiful artwork and simple but cute stories. Audiences looking for something darker and deeper like some of Miyazaki's earlier work such as Princess Mononoke may wish to look elsewhere. If you're still not sure, see the trailer after the break.