This wondrously beautiful Japanese film will wow your kids ... as long as they can sit through it.
"Ponyo" is inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's oh-so-familiar "The Little Mermaid," but it's probably not what you're expecting. The film centers around a boy named Sosuke and his goldfish, whose transformation into a young girl named Ponyo unleashes some frightening magic around their seaside home.
WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT
Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki strives for art more than typical kiddie fare with his cartoons, and he actually succeeds. Simply put, this film is wondrous and enchanting, and will draw in kids of all ages (you too, moms). The beautifully drawn ocean scenes come alive like a dream pleasing to both the ears and the eyes, and it's a joy to watch the magic in even the small things, like making tea.
The film has strong female role models. Sosuke's mom Lisa (voiced by Tina Fey) is capable and courageous, while Ponyo is determined and strong. Both Sosuke and Ponyo embody traits any mom would want their kids to have -- they are caring, trustworthy, playful and full of wonder. I found it refreshing to see Sosuke respect and honor his elders, as opposed to many kid movies where adults are bumbling fools designed to be undermined. Young Sosuke also has genuine friendships with the elderly women at the local retirement home -- a sweet touch you don't often see in children's movies.
Messages about acceptance abound. Lisa tells Sosuke, "We never judge others by their looks," advice that obviously sticks with him considering his best friend frequently morphs from human to fish and back again. There's also a clear pro-environment message, particularly when it comes to the ocean, but it never even approaches preachiness.
WHY YOU'LL HATE IT
There are definitely some cultural barriers to overcome here. The film's pace takes adjustment, and at times it seems satisfied just to wander aimlessly through the world it has invented. If your children are used to the over-caffeinated style of most current cartoons, this may be a new experience for them. Not that there aren't moments of intensity and adventure, but its not constant.
The film gets a little dark at times. During some intense moments, we are unsure about the survival of Sosuke's parents. At another point, Sosuke and Ponyo are left alone during a vicious storm, causing fear of abandonment. There are some vividly drawn (and scary) sea creatures that try to swallow up everything in their path. Considering this, you may want to leave your very little ones at home.
There's not a whole lot to worry about in the inappropriate behavior department, but here are a few things to note: Lisa cracks open a beer when she is upset at Sosuke's father and Ponyo's father, an ocean wizard, appears marginally abusive when he tries to prevent her from transforming into a girl. But the edgiest thing said in the film is "Bug off." Oh, and it's said through Morse code. So unless your child is Thomas Edison, don't worry about backtalk because of this movie.
THE BOTTOM LINE
"Ponyo" is sweet, memorable and absolutely captivating. Let's just hope your kids can stay engaged and agree with you.
|Though technically an adult, Rhianwen Benner voraciously consumes children's media with the passion and wonder of a child. As a researcher at Temple University, she has studied the relationship between media and children's development. She has witnessed many special moms and kids navigate the often complex world of children's entertainment. Based in Los Angeles, she is here to serve as your field guide to what kids watch.|