Miyazaki's stunning adventure is geared to younger kids.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Review Date: August 13, 2009
  • Rated: G
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 2009
  • Running Time: 103 minutes

What parents need to know

Educational value

Kids learn about the important of not polluting the environment and of not judging a book by its cover.

Positive messages

The film's many messages -- most embodied in the main character of Sosuke -- include being open to change, taking care of your pets, being kind to the elderly, sharing with others, and being brave enough to face obstacles.

Positive role models

The movie's female characters are all quite brave, powerful, and strong -- especially Ponyo, her mother, and Lisa. Sosuke, only 5, is more responsible and selfless than some young adults. His love for Ponyo, both as a fish and then as a little girl, is remarkable, as is his determination to find his mother after the storm. He's also incredibly kind to the elderly ladies at the retirement home where his mother works. Sosuke takes to heart his mother's advice not to judge others by their appearance, which is why he's so willing to take care of Ponyo whether she's a fish or a girl.

Violence & scariness

On a couple of occasions, Sosuke thinks Ponyo has died or is lost at sea. There's a tsunami, and things get a bit tense when Sosuke and his mom drive back to their cliffside home. When Ponyo finds his mom's car but not his mother, he begins to cry. For a while it's also unclear whether Sosuke's father, a boat captain, has survived the storm. The waves that turn into fish could scare very young children. Some little kids might also be confused about why Lisa leaves Sosuke and Ponyo during a dangerous storm.

Sexy stuff

Ponyo's parents embrace, and Ponyo plants a kiss on Sosuke's cheek and hugs him a lot. Discussions about true love, Ponyo and Sosuke growing up together and loving each other forever, etc.


Ponyo's father calls humans "stupid," and Sosuke's mom sends a "Bug Off" message to her husband using Morse code. The word "weirdo" is also used a couple of times.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Sosuke's mom drinks what looks like a beer after finding out that her husband won't be coming home from work. Later she appears to be "passed out" from exhaustion, but she could also be tipsy.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this stunning adventure from anime master Hayao Miyazaki is one of his most kid-friendly films to date, with strong characters and positive messages. There's little violence, although a few scenes during and after a climactic storm may disturb the youngest viewers. Some scenes in which parents and other characters seem to be missing might also be upsetting. Parents may be put off by the idea that two 5-year-old characters must at one point fend for themselves without supervision -- but this is, after all, a fairy tale-like story.

What's the story?

Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid tale, PONYO follows a goldfish princess named Brunhilde (voiced by Noah Lindsey Cyrus) who wants to explore beyond the sea. When she ends up nearly lifeless on the shore of a small oceanfront village, 5-year-old Sosuke (Frankie Jonas) rescues her, renames her Ponyo, and vows to take care of her. Ponyo's father, an undersea sorcerer who seems human (Liam Neeson), recaptures her -- but Ponyo is determined to use her father's magic to turn into a girl and return to Sosuke. By unleashing her powers, Ponyo does transform into a girl, but she also disrupts the balance of nature and causes a tsunami that nearly destroys Sosuke and his mother Lisa's (Tina Fey) village.

Is it any good?


Despite the Disneyfication of the voice casting (you can just picture the pitch meeting: "We'll get Miley's little sister and the Jonases' little brother!), this is still a classic Miyazaki film, from the enchanting anime style to the recurring theme of humanity's relationship with our surroundings (in this case, the sea). And, once again, there are several unmistakably strong female characters: Ponyo is quite literally a force of nature, and her mother the ocean queen (Cate Blanchett) is even more powerful. Plus there's Sosuke's mom and the trio of elderly women she tends to (Cloris Leachman, Betty White, and Lily Tomlin), who form a sort of chorus for the film. And there is, at the heart of the Ponyo (and every Miyazaki story), a hero's journey.

American audiences unfamiliar with anime or Miyazaki's work may not "get" the movie's magical realism or the utter lack of pop culture references and big musical numbers. Ponyo is just like a real 5-year-old girl -- in awe of the world, adventurous, hilarious. Sosuke, on the other hand, is wise beyond his years, courageous, responsible, and loving. Those who dive in to Miyazaki's world will be rewarded with a humorous, touching fable that will leave young children wide-eyed, although possibly demanding ham (you'll see!).

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Sosuke and Ponyo's journey to be together. What obstacles did they each have to overcome, and what sacrifices (if any) did they each have to make? Is it strange that Sosuke and Ponyo are 5, instead of teenagers?

  • Miyazaki loosely based this story on Hans Christian Andersen's original Little Mermaid fairy tale. How does this version of the story compare to the Disney movie?

  • Families who want to learn more about anime may want to screen Miyazaki's other films together. How are they similar to each other, and how are they different from most American-made animated movies?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 14, 2009
DVD release date:March 2, 2010
Cast:Frankie Jonas, Liam Neeson, Noah Lindsey Cyrus, Tina Fey
Director:Hayao Miyazaki
Studio:Walt Disney Pictures
Genre:Family and Kids
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Ocean creatures
Run time:103 minutes
MPAA rating:G

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  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent of a 4 and 6 year old Written bytlanderson August 16, 2009

Not for 6 and below

In my opinion, this movie is not acceptable for age 6 and below. I would say it should be for older children only. There are several very scary scenes. Additionally, a 5 year old is show being left alone during a storm, entering the ocean by himself and lighting matches.While I realize this is fiction and a fantasy film, it was too much and did not deserve it's G rating. My 6 year old was terrified. I rely on this sight to help guide my movie choices and I feel let down regarding this film.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Parent of a 4 and 4 year old Written byandsoitgoes August 19, 2009
Fantastic. My children have loved one of Miyazaki's earliest films, My Neighbor Totoro, since they were 2. This was no different. The story was simple, sweet and about as positive as you could get. There were very few situations that were "tense" and put any of the characters in great danger, so if your kids are older and they thrive on having some major "bad guy" in a movie, this isn't for them. Personally it's a favorite movie for myself, and for my 4 year olds. They loved it and wanted to see it again. The pro-environment messages are good, I'm getting a bit tired of them, simply because they seem so forced, however they're a bit too subdued here and never really fleshed out to the point that little kids would GET what they were hinting at. And the ending... Let's say it's far from the best ending Miyazaki has given in any of his movies. But at the end, it doesn't ruin the rest of the film, which is fantastic. The worst part about all of this, really, is the lack of response. There's been so little interest here that it makes me fear for movies in this quality. The same thing happened with Spirited Away, which was a fantastic movie as well. If you get the chance, and have kids that love sweet, endearing and funny movies, this is it. It's "The Little Mermaid" with far more heart and less of a bratty main character.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Parent of a 6 and 8 year old Written bybethmorris1125 May 2, 2010

Great for 6 & 8 yr olds

My kids (ages 6 & 8) really enjoyed this movie. We discussed during the film that it was weird that his mom let him down by the water alone, and left a 5 yr old alone with a "fish girl" during a storm. My 8 yr old comment she was glad THAT was not a real life story because the mom let the kid alone too much. I thought the beer seemed odd, but kids do see their parents disagree, so the bug off scene didn't phase me much. I could not decide if the mom was passed out in that scene, but the way she bounced back just made me think she was sort of down. I thought it was cute, and I love the animation. If you like this one, check out My Neighbor Totoro -- my kids loved that one too.


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