Ponyo (UK - BD RB)
Marcus watches a seafood stick turn into a little girl in HD and is mesmerised
Brumhilda (Noah Cyrus—that’s right, Miley’s little sister) is a little goldfish who dreams of adventure beyond her ocean realms. Making a break for freedom she reaches the surface and befriends little Sosuke (Frankie Jonas—that’s right another Jonas Brother) who names her Ponyo. Now wanting more human experiences, Ponyo changes herself into a little girl and returns to Sosuke, causing an imbalance in nature and a rise in the sea levels in Susuke’s village.
I opted for the US Disney Region Free release of Ponyo back in March and despite it only being a part of my collection for a short time it’s already a much loved family classic. I’ve been a Miyazaki fan for, like ever and since around Spirited Away, the rest of my family have really grown affectionate of Studio Ghibli and its fantastic characters and visuals but with the arrival of Ponyo, my youngest daughter May (age five) got to fall in love with something outside of the usual Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks offerings that are her usual choices.
Ponyo literally bewitched her and not only has she rewatched it multiple times, sung the ridiculously catchy theme tune to death (Ponyo, Ponyo Little Fishy in the Sea) but she’s actually gone back and watched my entire Miyazaki collection. Stuff like that makes a movie loving father proud, but even more rewarding was watching just how much she responded to the magic Miyazaki puts in his movies time and time again, reminding me exactly why I fell in love with Japanese animation in the first place.
No one captures every tiny glimmer of emotion from a moment like Miyazaki does. Every single story beat feels heartfelt, every ounce of feeling between characters feels utterly fairy tale magical and no matter how far-fetched the stories get they somehow feel anchored in realty (albeit a reality built in an dreamlike imagination). Ponyo has all of this and immediately feels timeless.
The effortless nature of setting up the story of an underwater world interacting with the surface world is handled with the usual anime sensibilities that subtly says “this is the story, yes, it’s out there, deal with it”, and the visuals accompanying all of this are absolute mesmerising, possibly even providing some of Ghibli’s best yet (and that really is saying something considering the history). The heartfelt character interactions between Sosuke and his mother (who’s playful grievance towards Sosuke’s father is brilliant) and Sosuke and the old ladies in the nursing home are all charming. The uppity Liam Neeson vocals for Ponyo’s father and his grump about his daughter's defiance are perfectly countered against her mother’s (a sea goddess) calming beauty and more importantly the blossoming friendship between Sosuke and his new fish friend is so innocent and pure of heart that I was immediately won over by it.
Ponyo is simply a masterpiece in animation. The visuals of the storm and the giant fish waves are honestly some of the most impressive hand drawn moments ever and the payoff is just more Miyazaki delight with a still frame final image that rounds everything off perfectly. Miyazaki continues to lead the way in animated family movies, and even though Ponyo is aimed at a slightly younger audience he doesn’t shy away from that playful sense of danger that many western movies miss/avoid and provides stories that aren’t afraid to place magic over realism and give kids a ticket to pure unrestricted imagination. Don’t just take my word for it though; ask my daughter May, she’ll tell you how it is... that is if you can stop her singing both the English and Japanese version of the Ponyo theme tune over and over again.
If there was ever a title to win the battle when discussing the point of choosing HD over SD it’s Ponyo. Ghibli’s work has never looked this great and great just isn’t a strong enough word to do this transfer justice.
Colours, sharpness, detail, everything about this 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is near impossible to find fault with. You could literally pause any moment of this movie and it would make a great image to frame.
As a massive fan of 2D animation, I was absolutely mesmerised by how much of the artists' work you can see here. The texture of the paper; the brush strokes; the different techniques all fantastic to see, and frankly it still baffles me how good the character animation is considering detail levels are minimal and colouring is usually the base colour with one different tone for shading. This stuff seems so simple when studied closely but with those lavish backgrounds and the wonderful designs the overall effect is unparalleled and finally we have a home format that really shows it off.
With a slight change of pace from the US release, we lose the lossy Dolby Digital track only to be replaced with a LPCM 5.1 track in English and a DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 track in Japanese. Honestly I didn’t notice much of a difference in the English track and don’t really have enough experience with the Japanese tracks to spot the differences, but I will say that both are powerful, effective and subtle at all the right moments.
As always the Miyazaki scores are what sell every moment and the strength of the score presentation works wonders, especially in the rain storm’s big moments, which can be a real powerhouse. Dialogue has that beautifully awkward English dub feel that either makes or breaks foreign animation but the next wave of the Cyrus and Jonas kids do a bang up job as the two leads bring a natural sounding childlike interaction (despite some of the hokey/sweet lines) all sounding great within the mix.
Now here’s where the real changes show themselves from the US Disney release. For a start we lose the ‘Enter the Lands’ interactive look at other Miyazaki movies (it was nice on the US disc, but really not that big a loss as it got a little frustrating after a while).
What we do get that mirrors the US release is the 'Meet Ponyo: Intro by Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall' (03:19 HD) which has the two legendary producers selling the movie well. ‘A Conversation with Hayao Miyazaki and John Lasseter’ (03:30, HD) is a bit of short fluffiness between the two but I do love seeing Lasseter’s passion for Miyazaki’s work shining so brightly, it makes me smile.
‘Creating Ponyo’ (03:56 HD), ‘Ponyo and Fujimoto’ (02:58 HD)’ The Nursery’ (01:57 HD), ‘Producer’s Perspective: Telling the Story’ (02:25 HD), ‘The Locations of Ponyo’ (09:43 HD), Scoring Miyazaki (07:17 HD), ‘Behind the Microphone’ (06:02 HD) are all rather short and sweet and relatively typical of most anime releases and with the PiP Storyboards wrapping up the adoptions from the US Blu-ray release we move onto the Optimum release extra, extra features.
‘The Five Geniuses Who Created Ponyo’ (48:57 HD) is a five part Japanese documentary split down to Katsuya Kondo – Supervising Animator, Noboro Yoshida – Art Director, Michiya Yasuda – Colour Design, Shuj Inove – Recording and Sound Mixing and Joe Hisashi – Music). It’s a fairly fun approach to their work and shows off plenty of the team at work with interviews.
‘Hayao Miyazaki: Interview’(14:51 HD) seems to be a press event of some kind with flashing cameras throughout. It’s relatively interesting but doesn’t have the best sound quality. The next interview is with Toshio Suzuki (29:41 HD) and features a different angle to the making of the movie.
‘Dubbing Session and Interview with the Japanese Cast’ (24:54 HD) is a little overlong for its own good and just before we finish up, there’s the awesomely Japanese music video for the ‘Ponyo Theme Song’ (03:32) featuring Ponyo merchandise (dolls, boots, coats, balloons etc) which literally made my daughter look at me with an “I want all of that” stare and rounding up are two trailers, two TV spots and three tie-in promos. Oh, and it comes with a DVD copy, which I didn't get with this review disc, so I'm not sure what's on it.
Ponyo is another Miyazaki delight in a long list of delightful movies and Optimum have provided even more goodness in the extras department than the already great US release provided earlier in the year.
The disc looks mind-blowingly good and sounds great as well and with the movie itself providing an absolutely spellbinding fairy tale adventure told by a master doing what he does best, a recommendation is a no brainer, especially for all of you out there with kids who are yet to take their first dip into the anime ocean.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable for all
Release Date: 7th June 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LCPM 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English, DTS HD MA 6.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese
Extras: PiP Storyboards, The Five Genuises Who Created Ponyo: Interviews, Japanese trailers and TV spots, Intro by Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, A Conversation with Hayao Miyazaki and John Lasseter, Behind the Microphone: the Voices of Ponyo, Creating Ponyo, Ponyo and Fujimoto, The Nursery, Scoring Miyazaki, The Producer’s Perspective: Telling the Story, The Locations in Ponyo, Hayao Miyazaki Interview, Toshio Suzuki Interview, Dubbing Session and Interview with Japanese Cast, Music Video of the Theme Song, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Noah Lindsey Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Tina Fey
Genre: Adventure, Animation and Family
Length: 102 minutes
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