September 1st, 2009


The kids and I ventured out last week to find some relief from the heat.  The obvious place: the movies, of course.  However, as luck would have it, the one movie we wanted to see, Ponyo, was playing at our little art house cinema which does not have air conditioning.

Fortunately, we were quickly engaged in the movie and forgot about our heat wave woes.

Ponyo is a Japanese film that has been re-dubbed and released in the U.S. by Disney.  It’s the story about a little fish who wishes to become human and it was created by the same person who gave us Spirited Away, which is a favorite in our household.

While Ponyo is not as captivating as Spirited Away, the kids and I found it very enjoyable.

The pace of the movie differs from the frenetic speed at which many American movies move.  Although there are exciting moments, the story unfolds in a very simple, straight-forward way.  There are no plot twists, surprise endings or tragedies to get us riled up.  In fact, some of the more bizarre, Anime-influenced characters and situations actually go unexplained—with the expectation that the audience will take the movie at face value.

The artwork is beautiful, if not simple by today’s standards.  While the trend in animation seems to be to create digital images to look as real as possible, watching Ponyo is like watching whimsical paintings come to life.  (Sadly, that style of artwork is already feeling “dated.”)    The one creative element that I thought missed the mark was the voice casting.   Usually animators and voice actors work together to make the most of the actors’ personalities in the film.   Because these remarkable actors (Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Tina Fey, Betty While, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon) were simply reading lines written for someone else and translated from another language, very little of their personal charm came through.  It was sort of like watching DeNiro and Streep read scenes from High School Musical.  Entertaining, yes, but a little awkward.

Ponyo is a sweet, gentle story and worth an afternoon at the movies.  You’ll certainly be aware that you’re watching a beautiful art form that varies from a typical movie experience—but as the saying goes, variety is the spice of life!

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This Weeks Tip

Onions make you weepy? Before you begin chopping, light a match in the vicinity of the onion. Something about the sulfur (don’t ask us what) neutralizes the stuff in the onion that makes you cry.