Arts and Entertainment

‘Ponyo’ — a must-see film for young and old

Could anyone be blamed if they’ve fallen out of love with animated children’s films?

The once proud genre has fallen on hard times lately, with an endless procession of throwaway movies like “Bolt,” “Shrek 3,” “Chicken Little” and “Bee Movie” spilling into theaters, video store shelves and the inner recesses of impressionable young minds like some kind of great cinematic garbage patch.

But take heart — the screens are at least temporarily safe again, because “Ponyo,” a new masterpiece from Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, has arrived to enchant viewers both young and old.

For decades, Miyazaki has created films like “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service.”

These movies, filled with brave children, epic adventures and luminescent dreams of flight, are among the finest children’s films ever made.

But with “Ponyo,” Miyazaki, now in his late sixties, has topped himself in a towering wave of poetic accomplishment so breathtaking it almost seems impossible.

In eye-popping, hand-drawn animation, the film tells the story of a tiny goldfish named Ponyo, who is rescued on a beach by a five-year-old boy, Sosuke.

But Ponyo is no ordinary fish: She’s the daughter of a sea wizard, Fujimoto, who insists that she return to her watery home. Of course, when he finally succeeds in snatching her back, it’s too late — she longs to go back to the boy she now loves.

And oh, what a transformative love it is. Ponyo — determined to become a girl —suddenly sprouts arms and legs, and in a majestic scene, runs across the tops of billowing waves to return to the cliff where Sosuke’s home is perched.

Miyazaki’s animation, throughout the film, is stunning. White jellyfish float in an azure sea, looking like a Georgia O’Keefe painting of clouds. A tsunami wave crashes, like a Hokusai print springing to life.

Best of all, the film has a special resonance for Island audiences. If you’ve ever seen a whale leap from Puget Sound or peered down from the ferry dock to look at the magical world swirling just below the water’s surface, “Ponyo” — a painterly and powerful film full of reverence for the briny deep as well as life here on earth — was made for you.

— Elizabeth Shepherd is The Beachcomber’s arts editor. She also works as children’s film curator at Northwest Film Forum in Seattle.

“Ponyo” runs through Thursday night at Vashon Theatre.

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