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October 18, 2017

“Ponyo” considers conflict between man and nature

Within the first ten minutes of watching Hayao Miyazaki’s newest film, ”Ponyo,” audiences can already predict what the story will be about. Fish meets boy, fish turns into girl and reunites with boy. Together, they explore the world of humans and fall in love with each other. What they might not be aware of is the underlying conflict that is presented throughout the story in a rather unconventional way.

“Ponyo” opens with the camera falling through the air and sinking into the ocean, as the world of man meets the world of nature. Upon reaching the ocean floor, an eager-faced fish-girl devilishly sneaks into sight, evading a mysterious red-haired man as she latches onto a jellyfish and rises to the surface of the ocean.

Unfortunately, before she can do much more than see a house on a cliff, she is rudely disturbed by a large ship which unearths mountains of trash and junk buried on the ocean floor. Just as Ponyo seems faced with death, trapped by a small glass jar capturing her head, she is rescued by a five-year-old boy named Sosuke.

On a shallow level, “Ponyo” is a Little Mermaid-like tale of a girl escaping her father’s overprotective grasp in order to explore the world above and experience love for the first time. However, the story is told through the eyes of a child, lending a heart-tugging quality to the purity of the love. Looking past the animation and analyzing the story, “Ponyo” is undoubtedly a tale of the conflict between man and nature.

The end of the world approaches as the balance between man and nature has shifted to a slow deterioration of the natural world. Catastrophe can only be diverted when the stability between the power of nature and the destructiveness of man is restored, represented through the life of a small fish-girl named Ponyo.

Ponyo, a magical fish with the ability to grow arms and legs, develops as the representation of harmony between man and nature. The world becomes unstable while she edges closer to humanity, and only resolves after a compromise is reached.

Children can appreciate the film as yet another wonderful work of art by writer/director/producer Hayao Miyazaki, while adults can understand and enjoy the underlying theme. Miyazaki embraces the opportunity in all of his films, most notably “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke,” to both entertain the public and remind them of a serious and relevant issue, such as pollution or feminism.

Older crowds might also recognize some of the big stars featured in ”Ponyo” as English voice actors. Matt Damon lent his voice to Sosuke’s father, as did Liam Neeson for Ponyo’s father. Tina Fey gave a wonderful performance as the spunky and almost childish mother of Sosuke, while Cate Blanchett saved the world as the Great Sea Mother using her ethereal voice and beauty. Betty White, Lily Tomlin, and Cloris Leachman act as three opinionated old ladies that add a humorous element to the film.

The casting of the two leads, Ponyo and Sosuke, however, left a slightly unsavory taste in one’s mouth. Noah Cyrus, younger sister of Miley Cyrus, played the innocent Ponyo in a convincing role that was adorable and cute, although her voice was sickeningly sweet and high pitched. Frankie Jonas, a nine-year-old boy, seemed too mature to play the role of a five-year-old child. His enthusiasm was notable, but he lacked the childlike innocence found in such a young character.

Overall, ”Ponyo” provides a great escape from reality with its stunningly vivid animation, while including a thought-provoking message that demands attention. Whether “Ham!” becomes your daily mantra or “Respect your father!” ”Ponyo” will capture your heart and make you fall in love.

Nora Drapalski can be reached at ndrapals@student.umass.edu.

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