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Review by Michael Edwards

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THERE is only one animation studio operating today that produces more exciting, innovative and joyous films than Pixar. That wondrous place is Studio Ghibli, and their latest offering is no exception to this rule.

A vibrant and playful film, Ponyo tells the story of a young boy and his fish (bear with me here). Sosuke lives with his mother on the top of a hill on a small Japanese Island.

His father is a sailor and is frequently away from home (much to the annoyance of his mother) but that doesn’t seem to bother Sosuke much. He’s your typical five-year-old… curious, full of energy and in need of adventure. And one day when he is down by the sea he finds it: in the form of a fish with a face. This turns out to be the eponymous Ponyo.

Blending eastern and western mythology in a way that only Hayao Miyazaki can, he proceeds to whisk this story into a creamy blend of The Little Mermaid, My Neighbour Totoro and any number of sea-faring myths of yore with whirlwind pace that is bound to dazzle young audiences as much as the sumptuous visuals and psychedelic undersea creatures.

What makes the film so special, aside from the stunning originality which we come to expect of Studio Ghibli, is that it is a love story for children that manages to deliver accessible emotion without being patronising or mollycoddling its audience.

Sosuke’s relationship with Ponyo who, as you may have guessed, does not stay a fish for long, bustles through the gamut of childlike emotions from curiosity to affection and the kind of innocent love that only a kid of this age can produce – all of which is devoid of any sense of being schmaltzy or contrived. As an addded bonus, this emotional candour is wrapped in a playful fairytale atmosphere that is incomparably charming.

Since the advent of Pixar’s dominance in this demographic, another measure of such a film’s success is how appealing it is likely to be to adults. Whilst Ponyo is quite clearly aimed at young children, and (unlike its American peer) makes no conscious effort to modify its story for the older audience, the film is so real and genuine in the emotions it deals with (underneath the vivid fairytale exterior) that there is no way adults cannot enjoy it.

Added to the pleasures of such engaging material is the constant draw provided by Miyazaki: the animation. His lovingly created, still largely hand-drawn imagery remains as effective against CGI counterparts as against Disney in its heyday.

When such time-tested skill is applied to such imaginative material as it consistently is, there is rarely cause for complaint. And that is no different for Ponyo.

Certificate: U
Running time: 101mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 7, 2010