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Movies Review

Ponyo

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Ponyo
Released on Friday, Feb 12 2010

Back in 1995, the release of Toy Story seemed to be a killer blow for American hand-drawn animation. The artistic and commercial success of the movie and its Pixar follow-ups certainly revolutionised the genre and soon prompted Disney to all but give up the sketchpad for its feature films. Perversely though, with Pixar's chief creative officer John Lasseter now back at Disney, they've realised the error of their ways and embraced the old-school for The Princess And The Frog. Outside the US, though, hand-drawn animation never went away, and from the pencil of Hayao Miyazaki (who directed 2002's Oscar-winning Spirited Away) comes Ponyo, an extremely loose reimagining of The Little Mermaid - the story behind Disney's own 1989 classic.

Released in Japan in 2008, the movie was redubbed for US audiences last year and is now finally hitting the UK. In place of the original actors we get the voices of an all-star Hollywood cast. Liam Neeson and Cate Blanchett play the unconventional parents of the title character, while Matt Damon and Tina Fey voice the mum and dad of lead child Sōsuke. Ponyo herself is played by Noah Cyrus (yep, Miley's little sister), and Sōsuke's words come from Frankie 'Bonus' Jonas (yep, Joe, Nick, and Kevin's little brother).

The first thing to say about Ponyo is that it looks absolutely fantastic. The characters are drawn in the classic anime style but still convey all manner of emotion with just the slightest raised eyebrow, grin or frown. Better still, the ocean landscape and underwater kingdom of Ponyo's father is not only wonderful to look at, it also manages to set the tone of the scenes, with a fine example being the living sea imparting menace and danger to the cliffside residents with every crash against the shore. Sadly, while Ponyo is very pretty indeed, its story only washes over you like its immaculately-drawn waves

The film's opening sees young fish Ponyo escaping the grasps of her father and making her way to the surface, where she is found by Sōsuke. Sōsuke soon takes a shine to the fish-with-a-face, and their friendship grows until circumstances conspire to turn Ponyo into a human being. All the while, Ponyo's overprotective father and absent sea goddess mother find a neat parallel in Sōsuke's own loving mum and overworked dad. There's plenty of potential here for a colourful look at love, family and especially friendship, but it never feels as though anything of importance is really at stake.

Unlike the classic animated children's features of past and present, from Snow White through to Up (and of course The Little Mermaid itself), you never feel even the slightest hint of danger. No real sacrifice is made or asked of any of the characters and there never seems to be any consequences for any actions in the long or short term - from Sōsuke's mother's unbelievably awful driving to Ponyo's potentially world-destroying antics. Sure, Ponyo's dad is a little mardy and one of the ladies from the local old folks home is a cantankerous old mare, but no-one is really a baddie, so you're left with little to keep you on the edge of your seat. There's still plenty of gorgeous eye-candy to keep adults going if they've taken their kids along for some unthreatening entertainment - but a word of warning. Leave before the end credits, and the unbearably twee duet between the baby Cyrus and Jonas siblings.


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