There is nothing worse than a children’s movie that makes you feel less hip.
Ponyo is the new animated film from Studio Ghibli, the Japanese equivalent to America’s Disney or possibly Pixar. The mastermind behind Studio Ghibli is Hayao Miyazaki, which I guess makes him the Japanese Walt Disney. Miyazaki’s new film made me feel old and creaky, definitely uncool.
In contrast, I felt incredibly hip when I showed my kids one of his earlier works, My Neighbor Totoro, which features a wacky cat bus, crazy dust sprites, and some giant wood elf. I hoped to reclaim some of that old magic by taking Holly and the kids to see Ponyo a few weeks ago. Ponyo offers similar nonsense as Totoro, but with a sea theme: a wacky yellow submarine (not nearly as sublime as Totoro’s grinning cat bus), loveable tadpoles, and a crazy old coot who lives in the sea. Somehow none of it worked for me. In Totoro, the fanciful wood elves and cat bus added a pleasent child like element to a story that’s firmly grounded in the real world–the drama of a sick parent from the point of view of a young child. In Ponyo, the plot isn’t grounded in much of anything. Although it’s a beautiful story to watch, I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. The climax involves one five year old marrying another, while the parents watch. In Totoro, the hightened reality seems to describe a spiritual world accessible only by children. In Ponyo, they seem to be trying for a spirit world accessible by children and adults, but it just falls flat for me. A friend of mine, equally flummoxed, called it the best movie about a five year old getting married she’d ever seen. That about sums it up for me, too.
Watching the credits, I asked Aaron, who rarely offers an unkind opinion about anything, what he thought. He turned to me and said, “Well, Dad, it’s no G.I. Joe.”