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Wow, what a great movie. I’d gone in expecting another Spirited Away, which I found gorgeous but rambling and portentous and adult, but Ponyo is a true kids’ movie. That’s not to say I didn’t have a fine time playing spot-the-allusion–forget “The Little Mermaid,” Ponyo has The Magic Flute all over it–but the heroes seem like true five-year-olds. I also loved the way the human boy, Sosuke, interacted with his mother Liz Lemon–needing her, disregarding her, helping her–and always from the point of view of a kid, not from an adult’s idea of how a kid should view things. It’s great, too, in a world of airbrushed Pixar animation, to see moving pictures again–when was the last time a cartoon showed what looked like a hand-drawn line? And, best of all, I never once heard a joke or saw a scene that seemed intended as a sop or wink to the adults in the audience, something even the best Pixar movies do regularly. I love the fact that even nine-year-olds might feel too old for this film.

I think Sendak would adore this movie–it was preceded by a preview of Where the Wild Things Are and, truth be told, I felt a little worried by the wooden dialogue. But let’s wait for the whole thing.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >100 percent agreed! I loved it!

  2. Anonymous says:

    >I'm excited to see this and, yes, to see some good hand-drawn animation. But I will say in Pixar's defense I feel that they almost never wink at the adults. Sometimes maybe the Pixar writers take it to an adult level, but they never wink. Maybe you were thinking of Dreamworks? Winking is all I think they really know how to do.

  3. Monica Edinger says:

    >Liz Lemon? Now that's a mother I want to see! (Versus Tina Fey in those credit card commercials.) Seriously, you make me more interested now in seeing this.

  4. >I loved this movie. Themes were so well layered, yet non-intrusive. And the characters were terrific, especially the Ponyo and Sosuke.

    I saw it with my middle schooler, and we talked about it for a long time afterward.

  5. >I totally agree. When I went to see if there were some adults in the theater who were clearly disappointed, because I think they were hoping for something more like Miyazaki's adult stuff. But I felt that was one of the most toddler-appropriate movies I've ever seen, with, as you say, minimal winking to adults. (I wouldn't say no winking to adults; I burst out laughing every time they played "Ride of the Valkyries.")

    But yes, both Ponyo and Sosuke were very very young, and realistically so, and I loved how very safe the whole conflict felt.

  6. Rebecca Stead says:

    >I loved it too. Miyazaki always knocks me out with his mix of honesty and fantasy. Grown-ups are moody, not everything works right, and babies have snot running down their faces. Yet the world is an awesome place to be.

  7. >I saw a subtitled version of Ponyo back in the Spring and thought it was outstanding. I have to admit I'm apprehensive about the voice talent Disney has employed for the US version. As much as I admire Blanchett, Fey, Neeson et. al, familiar actors sometimes creates a certain detachment. (for example hearing Phil Hartman's voice in Kiki's Delivery Service always weirds me out) I also worry when I see that Disney has used a Cyrus and a Jonas to fill lead roles. This is the type of synergy that is not exactly Ars gratia artis.

    For those who've seen the film, did you find any of the voice talent distracting, or gimmicky?

  8. >Eric, I thought the voices were great, especially Ponyo's. I didn't know who the talent was until the credits rolled at the beginning, and even then I was so swept up in the film that I forgot all about the celebrity cast until after the movie was over.

  9. >Miley's sister and the "bonus Jonas" turned in shockingly good performances, imo. Tina Fey was great, too, but I don't think her role called for as many dimensions as the kids' did. I felt the only sour or 'meh' casting note was Liam Neeson.

    It's a real treat — a home run for just about all kids from 3-8, I think.

  10. >I love his movies – can hardly wait for it to arrive upstate.

  11. >Probably one of the only recent films that managed to enthrall all three of my children at the exact same time. They're aged two, four, and six, and I relished this small miracle and was able to actually watch and enjoy the film myself!

    One of the things I appreciate about Miyazaki's films is a lack of a villain in the story. There may be antagonists, but they usually prove themselves quite sympathetic towards the end — in the case of Ponyo, it's an evil wizard who is eventually revealed to be more of an overprotecive father with a seriously bad case of Anime Hair. Love it.

  12. >Roger, I was so focussed on the Wagner I didn't even notice The Magic Flute…but of course it's all there as well. And how wonderful to have such a complex movie that's truly for LITTLE kids. Just goes on to prove what a genius he is…

  13. Roger Sutton says:

    >Brooke, that's the Magic Flute thing–Sarastro and the Queen of the Night, the parental figures to the young heroine Pamina, are scary and powerful but only ambiguously at cross-purposes, and once Tamino proves his love (in a test very much like the scene in Ponyo where the two kids walk through the tunnel) all is well. The friend who came with us pointed out that this dynamic is at work in The Golden Compass, too.

    The Wagner allusions are neat–Brunnhilde (whose famous Ride is quoted wittily in the Ponyo score) is the daughter of Wotan, the king of the gods, and Erda, goddess of the earth, who dumped his sorry ass before the opera begins. That Brunnhilde also has a gaggle of sisters. Things do not end happily for her, however.

  14. thedotdotdot says:

    >I adored Ponyo, and had a special appreciation for the sheer amount of responsibility he had, and how his mother trusted him enough to talk to him as a person.

    I think the problem I had with the Where the Wild Things Are trailer is not the stilted dialogue, but that the voices lacked a resonance that I would expect from a large creature. The sound was…flat? Maybe that's it.

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