Yesterday Disney released the trailer for the English-language version of Ponyo, which opens on August 14. It's loosely based on The Little Mermaid, but like Hayao Miyazaki's other heroines, Ponyo is no Disney princess.
The film, which was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, was released last summer in Japan as Gake No Ue No Ponyo (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea) and earned $165 million, making it Japan's highest grossing film of 2008, according to Jim Hill Media. Miyazaki is best known in the United States for his films Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film in 2003. Ponyo has already won the Japanese Academy's award for Best Animation Film and Best Score.
The English-language version of the film will open this summer on 800 screens in the U.S., making it the biggest opening for a Miyazaki film in North America. Though in the past the director's films have received critical acclaim but not huge numbers at the box office, Disney has put a considerable amount of effort into making Ponyo a hit in America. The English-language vocal cast includes Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, and Betty White, and to lure in American children Noah Cyrus (Miley's younger sister) and Frankie Jonas (the Jonas Brothers' younger brother), were hired to voice the two main characters. Plus, though Myazaki rarely does press, he is scheduled to do several interviews in the U.S. next month.
Ponyo tells the story of a baby goldfish who wants to be a human girl. According to Time she runs away from her home in the sea by hanging on to a jellyfish and gets caught in a glass bottle. A five-year-old boy named Sosuke finds her on the shore and frees her, but cuts himself on the glass. Ponyo uses her magical powers to heal him, but when she tastes his blood she starts becoming human. She and Sosuke become friends and she goes to live with him, but this upsets the balance in nature and her father, the king of the sea, tries to bring her back home.
The plot is loosely based on The Little Mermaid, but Ponyo looks nothing like the Disney version. Most of Miyazaki's films feature female protagonists, but romance is usually not the main focus in his films. In her essay on the director's heroines, Freda Freiberg writes that they are:
"endowed with the characteristics of the conventional masculine hero: they are active, assertive, adventurous and courageous. Some... are crusading heroines, fighting the evils of environmental destruction, capitalism and militarism, supporting the victims of aggression and confronting the perpetrators."
Miyazaki once said in an interview that while his films are known for featuring strong female characters,
I don't logically plan it that way. When we compare a man in action and a girl in action, I feel girls are more gallant. If a boy is walking with a long stride, I don't think anything particular, but if a girl is walking gallantly, I feel "that's cool." Maybe that's because I'm a man, and women may think it's cool when they see a young man striding. At first, I thought "this is no longer the era of men..." But after ten years, I grew tired of saying that. I just say "cause I like women." That has more reality.
Ponyo is geared toward a younger audience than many of Miyazaki's previous films, and according to a The Japan Times review and a The London Times review, the relationship that develops between Ponyo and Sosuke is more of a sibling relationship than the love story of Ariel and Eric that fuels Disney's The Little Mermaid. Rather than romance, the film deals with the relationship between parents and children, such as between Sosuke and his essentially-single mother and Ponyo's sea-goddess mother.
While American Miyazaki fans are already eagerly awaiting the film's release, hopefully this summer more kids will get to see an animated film that doesn't follow the typical formula.