Three-Word Review of ‘Ponyo’

Inscrutable, wet dream.

Captions don’t count: You don’t really watch a Miyazaki film for plot. Invariably, the Japanese director of “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro” delivers films of visual richness and inventiveness with an uncanny understanding of the wonderment of children. In this regard, “Ponyo” is no different. Its layered 2D animation luxuriates in the details of a bobbing, bubbly undersea world, making more marvel out of hand-painted cels than a host of Hollywood rendering computers ever could. It is, in every way, like watching a dream. The plot, however, makes not an ounce of sense. It involves a sea wizard’s well of wizardy hoodoo, vampiric healing magic, a localized tsunami, a moon on the move, and the inexplicable requirement to have two 5-year-olds commit to a long-term relationship in order to, uh, save the world. Somehow. (Because when your plot relies on magic, you can make any rules you want and no one can question you. A great “Simpsons” episode taught us to hand-wave away the plot illogic of fantasy stories by saying, “A wizard did it.” And in Ponyo, the entire plot is one big “A wizard did it.”) But you watch a film by Hayao Miyazaki for the power of its visuals, both big (a girl racing across the tops of magical, living waves to a stirring Wagnerian score) and small (the spreading movement water makes when you leave a wet footprint on pavement). If that’s what you go in expecting, you’ll be well rewarded.

Captions don’t count: You don’t really watch a Miyazaki film for plot. Invariably, the Japanese director of “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro” delivers films of visual richness and inventiveness with an uncanny understanding of how children view the world in wonderment. In this regard, “Ponyo” is no different. Its layered 2D animation luxuriates in the details of a bobbing, bubbly undersea world, making more marvel out of hand-painted cels than a host of Hollywood rendering computers ever could. It is, in every way, like watching a dream. The plot, however, makes not an ounce of sense. It involves a sea wizard’s well of wizardy hoodoo, vampiric healing magic, a localized tsunami, a moon on the move, and the inexplicable requirement to have two 5-year-olds commit to a long-term relationship in order to, uh, save the world. Somehow. (Because when your plot relies on magic, you can make any rules you want and no one can question you. A great “Simpsons” episode taught us to hand-wave away the plot illogic of fantasy stories by saying, “A wizard did it.” And in Ponyo, the entire plot is one big “A wizard did it.”) But you watch a film by Hayao Miyazaki for the power of its visuals, both big (a girl racing across the tops of magical, living waves to a stirring Wagnerian score) and small (the spreading movement water makes when you leave a wet footprint on pavement). If that’s what you go in expecting, you’ll be well rewarded.

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