I’m pretty sure that this one was added to our list simply because my wife has to watch every last Studio Ghibli film, especially one that was directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki himself. Upon watching however, I found that it’s probably one of his least notable films and is completely missable.
A strange creature that has both fish and human characteristic live deep beneath the ocean, imprisoned along with innumerable other sisters by their father Fujimoto who appears to be both a wizard and a scientist. One day she slips away and is discovered by a 5-year-old boy named Sōsuke who lives by the sea. Sōsuke and his mother Lisa think she is a goldfish and he names her Ponyo. The father recovers her but having tasted a drop of Sōsuke’s blood, Ponyo wishes to become human and grows arms and legs. When she escapes again she unleashes a huge amount of magic that Fujimoto has stored away causes huge waves to flood the town that Sōsuke lives in. Meanwhile Fujimoto summons Ponyo’s mother who turns out to be the goddess of the sea.
As you can see, this is yet another retelling of the familiar mermaid fairy tale, given the Studio Ghibli treatment by making the protagonists children and making them cute. The art is decent with Fujimoto and his devices in particular having a wacky mad scientist vibe that stands out. I’m also amused that the studio chose to use this as an occasion to highlight fish designs from the Devonian period, on the pretext that the powerful magic hearkens back to ancient times. Sōsuke is an awfully well educated five-year-old to be able to name all of the long extinct species he spots.
Unfortunately that’s pretty much all that this film has going for it. The world building is non-existent, we never find out Fujimoto’s back story for example or how Ponyo and her sisters would have turned into without Sōsuke’s intervention. I’m also irked by how aggressively pleasant everyone is. Lisa doesn’t so much as bat an eyelid when she learns that Ponyo is more than she seems. Everyone takes the magical weirdness and widespread destruction in stride as well. Even if we are to believe that no one died in all that flooding, the economic damage must be devastating but none of that seems to matter. There’s no weight in this film at all, no sense of the consequences that come from choices, making it very much light entertainment for children. It’s easy to watch to be sure but this is a totally forgettable and unremarkable film.