Ponyo (US - BD RA)
Gabe marvels in awe of his first high definition Miyazaki experience...
The daughter of a sea goddess and a strange under water scientist named Fujimoto (Liam Neeson), Brumhilda (Noah Cyrus) begins life as one of dozens of adorable little goldfish. Ignoring her father's restrictions she leaves home in search of adventure, where she meets Sosuke (Frankie Jonas), a good-natured 5-year-old who lives by the sea. Sosuke adopts the little goldfish, and re-names her Ponyo. Fujimoto uses his magic to bring Ponyo back, but her love for Sosuke, and her newly developed magical powers prove stronger than his elixirs. She transforms herself into a human girl, and returns to Sosuke, causing a massive storm at sea, which buries most of Sosuke’s village in water. Ponyo’s metamorphosis upsets the balance of nature, and brings the moon closer to the earth.
Miyazaki’s usual themes are all hear, including some pretty ham-fisted environmental lessons, missing parents, and more importantly a sort of nonchalant treatment of the super-natural. This is likely my favourite thing Miyazaki does, outside of his overwhelming visual imagination, which was the saving grace of the rather plodding Howl’s Moving Castle. This ‘just-so’ approach helps to deflate some of the threat that comes with the story’s epic scale. There’s a slightly nightmarish quality to the big storm scenes, but for the most part it’s played for whimsy, not fear. The storytelling here is super-simple and aimed at a younger audience, but it’s far from stupid or placating, and the kids are expected to participate in the story, rather than blindly staring at the screen. Adult audiences may pine for more conflict in the story, but they’re going to need to just go with the flow this time. Ponyo is a wonderful mix of Miyazaki’s Japanese tendencies and reactions, and Spielberg-esque American pop-culture. There’s a lot of E.T. in this particular story, and even a little Cocoon. This is no mistake, as Spielberg’s E.T. and Twilight Zone script collaborator Melissa Mathison was involved with the English language script.
The animation style is unlike anything Miyazaki has ever produced, without appearing entirely alien, or a particular re-definition of the Ghibli wheel. The backgrounds are often defined by coloured pencil elements with fine shading and blended elements. It’s similar to American storybooks, rather than digitally coloured comic books (Miyazaki fans may recall that Laputa’s backgrounds were often outlined in ink like an old comic book). The foreground and animated elements are rounder, blobbier, and all around more organic in their movement. There isn’t as much secondary shading to the animation, and small details are left out more than in films like Spirited Away, though the sheer quantity of elements is more than enough. There will surly be viewers that dislike the mixed styles, and specifically the simplistic and fluid character animation, but I’m happy the studio is doing something different with the 2D format. This is a fully realized and delightfully original universe Miyazaki has created, and there’s plenty to catch in the far corners of the frame.
I really want Disney to get a copy of Finding Nemo on the shelves, and for the time being this will be the closest I can get. Besides being exceedingly colourful this 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is razor sharp, reveling in both hard edged moving foreground elements and the coloured pencil backgrounds, with their deep set, etched details. You can really see the texture of the paper. The foreground elements are mostly outlined in semi-thick black, which is cut sharply against the pure hues. Occasionally the clearly distinct elements of the pencil backgrounds and cell painted foregrounds mix a little strangely, and create minor edge enhancement, but for the most part the clarity is precedent, and details are consistently impressive. I caught a few instances of the fuller reds displaying some minor blocking, but it’s hard to visually distinguish the textured elements from the cell elements at times, so this may have been my mistake. The brightness at first appears less than spectacular, but it turns out that Miyazaki is just saving his pallet’s brightest moments, which are usually of the magical variety. The large scale of events create so much on-screen movement the included standard definition release suffers some pretty severe compression noise, so the quantity of stuff makes the Blu-ray worth the price as well.
Purists will likely be upset that Disney has only included the American dub as an uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio track, but the Japanese track is here in a diminished Dolby Digital quality. Fortunately there isn’t a whole lot of dialogue to get upset about, and the Pixar people have done a good job with the dubbing process. The flow of the English is a little awkward compared to the Japanese, but the casting is great (yes, even the tiny Cyrus and Jonas do a solid job), and the actors do well enough with some thoroughly foreign characters. The dialogue on the English track is also mixed rather naturally into the original soundtrack, maintaining even volume. The underwater scenes reveal a lot of abstract sound design that bleeds into all channels, usually of the popping bubble variety. The scene where Ponyo’s ‘sisters’ free her from her time out bubble is especially aurally overwhelming, and followed by some pretty aggressive LFE elements. The big tsunami storm scene is another rather overwhelming aural event which works itself smoothly into the whole of the mix. The music is definitely in-keeping with the director’s usual score style, though perhaps a little more theatrical than his early films. Consistently the score is the most expressive and loud element of the soundtrack.
The rather terse extras begin with ‘Meet Ponyo’ (3:20, HD), a very brief primer on the role of the US production crew, including casting and voice direction, which was overseen by John Lasseter. ‘The World of Ghibli’ selection leads to two separate menus – ‘Behind the Studio’ and ‘Enter the Lands’. The ‘Behind the Studio’ menu features ‘A Conversation with Hayao Miyazaki and John Lasseter’ (3:30, HD), a fluffy pseudo-interview, ‘Creating Ponyo’ (4:00, HD), more fluffy visual and philosophical explorations, ‘Ponyo and Fujimoto’ (3:00, HD), a look at the building of the two characters, ‘The Nursery’ (2:00, HD), ‘Producer’s Perspective: Telling the Story’ (2:30, HD), a discussion with Toshi Suzuki, ‘The Locations of Ponyo’ (9:30, HD), a selection from a larger documentary on the subject of Miyazaki, ‘Scoring Miyazaki’ (7:20, HD), concerning the scores to many of the director’s films, ‘Behind the Microphone’ (6:00, HD), an exploration of the English dubbing, and the original Japanese trailers, along with previews of the new extras for My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky (in HD, even though the SEs are only being released on DVD).
The ‘Enter the Lands’ menu is a collection of various Studio Ghibli images and characters. Selectable interactive entries include Ponyo (a questionnaire to decide which character most represents the viewer), Kiki’s Delivery Service, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and My Neighbor Totoro (trailers, character bios, plot details and Easter eggs). The disc also features a storyboard presentation of the film, similar to the one that accompanied the 4 disc Japanese Howl’s Moving Castle collection. Trailers for other Disney releases close things out. The second disc is a DVD version of the film.
Ponyo is aimed at very young children, but master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki is still glorious even at his most simplistic, and Ponyo is a better film than the generally underwhelming Howl’s Moving Castle. Adult fans expecting something more along the lines of My Neighbor Totoro rather than Princess Mononoki should be pretty happy. The Blu-ray, which comes with a DVD copy, looks pretty great, with minor quibbles mixed in with all the wonderful colours, and rushing details. The audio is consistent, occasionally brilliant. The only disappoint comes in the extras, which are satisfying, but more of the EPK variety, including ads for the extras included with the new DVD releases of Kiki’s Delivery Service, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and My Neighbor Totoro.
*Reviewer Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
All ages admitted
Release Date: 2nd March 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese and French
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Enter the Lands Featurettes, Behind the Studio Featurettes, Meet Ponyo, Storyboard Version, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Noah Lindsey Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Tina Fey
Genre: Adventure and Animation
Length: 103 minutes
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