For America, nothing signifies the joy of hand-drawn animation like the chipper (and all powerful) little grin of Mickey Mouse. Similarly, for Japan, Studio Ghibli and its cuddly character Totoro are symbols of their national talent. Founded in 1985 by visionaries Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, the studio has produced some of the finest hand-drawn features of the past 25 years, including the heartbreaking Grave Of The Fireflies, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and our personal favourite, Spirited Away. For his latest animated epic, Miyazaki turns to Hans Christian Andersen‘s fairy-tale The Little Mermaid for inspiration.
Ponyo is a visually arresting addition to Miyazaki’s impressive portfolio. The opening underwater sequences take the breath away with hundreds of jellyfish, crustaceans and schools of fish swarming across the screen in a dazzling display of colour. However, Ghibli’s work is usually distinguished by its attention to the emotions of the characters and here, this charming escapade doesn’t quite stay afloat. The makers seem a little too preoccupied with hitting home (over and over again) its central eco-friendly message, and this somewhat hampers the natural flow of the plot.