Movie Review: Ponyo (2008)


Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Release: 2008


Ponyo is an imaginative movie about childlike wonder and what it means to love unconditionally.  The story follows five-year-old Sosuke, who rescues a “goldfish” from a jar in the ocean and names her Ponyo.  However, Ponyo is really a magical fish-girl who has run away from her wizard father to see more of the world.  She eventually uses her magic to transform completely into a human, but Sosuke must prove he can love Ponyo in both forms, if she is to remain on land.  If Sosuke fails, she will melt into sea foam.

As in many Miyazaki films, some of the logistics of Ponyo do not make much sense.  Beyond the fact that adults in the movie apparently see no problem with five-year-old children running about a flooded town alone, there are some inconsistencies (or, at least, unexplained circumstances) with the magic.  Ponyo’s birth and existence as a fish-girl are themselves in question.  Her transformation to human form also somehow upsets the balance of the world, in way that is never entirely clear.  In the end, however, the movie requires a certain suspension of disbelief anyway.  It is, after all, about a magical fish-girl.  So most viewers likely will have no problem overlooking a few other mysteries.

I personally found most of the characters very likable.  Sosuke is an intelligent, thoughtful child who seems to have an open heart for everyone around him: Ponyo, his mother, the women at the senior center where his mother works.  Ponyo, as a human, can border on annoying since she has a penchant for repeating things, but her exuberance and wonder at all her new experiences are ultimately catching.  Even Ponyo’s father, the story’s “villain” has enough complexity and depth to allow viewers to understand the actions he takes to retrieve his daughter from the “evil” humans.

Ponyo’s father also has an obsession with saving the environment, particularly the ocean, which I thought would become a major theme.  However, it never truly did.  His concern about pollution ends up mostly explaining only his personality; there does not seem to be a larger message for the audience.  The real theme of the movie is actually love.  The plot focuses on the love between Sosuke and Ponyo, which Sosuke is asked to dramatically prove, but viewers see him exhibit the same type of unconditional love for other characters.  His actions ultimately become a model for the adults in the story, as well.

Ponyo is an endearing film that truly celebrates the innocence and wonder of childhood.  Many of Miyazaki’s films are about growing up, but Ponyo recognizes that children have valuable talents and worldviews that adults should consider emulating. Both fun and inspiring, this is a great film.

Note: The English subtitles were very different from the English dubbing, with the subtitles being more philosophical and focused on abstract ideas like destiny.


6 thoughts on “Movie Review: Ponyo (2008)

  1. Krysta says:

    The thing that really struck me the most about this movie was the animation. Miyazaki films, of course, always look gorgeous, but the ocean scenes and the waves and everything were really something special.

    I do find it find it interesting, however, that Ponyo’s father, while not actually a villain really does come across like one just because of how he looks–soo sketchy. I’m wondering if there was an artistic reason for that. Are we supposed to be fooled by his appearance and then maybe realize we we were falling for some sort of villain stereotype? Or is it a cultural thing that I didn’t understand?


    • Briana says:

      Very good point about the art!

      I think perhaps we are supposed to see Ponyo’s father as the “villian” through her eyes–the person she thinks is trying to hold her back. Until she realizes he really does want what’s best for her. Of course, he also has the crazy “the environment must triumph over humans” thing going on, which contributes to his looking like the back guy.


      • Krysta says:

        I agree that we see Ponyo’s father as somewhat villainous because we see him through Ponyo’s eyes. However, when I said he “looks” like a villain, I really meant his appearance makes him look sketchy. The strange clothes, wild hair, and occasionally what looks like melted eye-makeup all contribute to give him a weird otherness that I initially interpreted as meaning he was bad. But as we got to know him, I realized, no, he just really likes odd clothes and stuff.


  2. Lianne @ says:

    I haven’t watched this movie yet so I just skimmed through your review but I hope to watch it soon! Thanks for the note about the difference between the dubbing and and the subtitles; I can’t remember if I’ve been watching Miyazaki’s movies in the original Japanese + English subtitles or just the English dub but I’ll keep it in mind🙂


    • Briana says:

      For some reason it only really occurred to me I could have watched the Japanese with subtitles after I’d watched most of the movies for this mini-event in English. I guess it’s because the English voice actors are actually pretty good–as opposed to the actors in some anime.


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