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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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.
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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?
This is 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). You just have to overlook 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!). Once again, there are several unmistakably strong female characters here: 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!).
Talk to your kids 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?
- In theaters: August 14, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: 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, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures, Ocean Creatures
- Run time: 103 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.