Ewan Gleadow’s review published on Letterboxd:
The output of Studio Ghibli is truly admirable. Crafting variously beautiful stories, woven with a careful animation that gives their films a personal touch like no other. It sets them apart from behemoths like Disney and Dreamworks, simply because the care of the craft in all of their movies is truly noticeable. Perhaps the best example of this care is Ponyo, a cute little film from a decade ago, one that sets itself apart from the endless stream of light hearted animations by actually being an incredible piece of film.
Following the story of an escaped fish named Ponyo, the film, directed by Ghibli veteran Hiyao Miyazaki, is a truly resounding piece of film. Full of the expectedly gorgeous animation and paired well with a simplistic yet fulfilling story, it’s a tremendous experience for anyone and everyone. With such stylish and gorgeous animation, it’s hard not to feel invested almost immediately. Certainly relying on the wholesome style of Ponyo as a character, the film is a great focus on how design can overtake a story rapidly. Looking good is one thing, but Ponyo also manages to feel good. It’s one of the few films I would consider re-watching just for how enjoyably comfortable and feel-good it is as a film.
All of this comes down to Miyazaki’s excellent direction, which allows both the animation and cast to flow in any way they choose. This loose form of direction is ingenious, a real trendsetting piece of trust is placed on everyone involved, and the results are drastically greater than that of other animated pieces. My lacking knowledge of Ghibli movies leaves me at a loss for words in what I can compare it to, but it’s a far stretch greater than Grave of the Fireflies. Maybe due to Ponyo’s ability to create something great with such a simple concept, it shows the genuine innovations of great animators, something Ghibli movies should be proud to showcase.
It does feel a tad ineffective though, and there are times when the story is thrown out of the window for a scene that looks good or doesn’t really do anything for the story. Ponyo relies on very creatively written characters, the likes of which are often contained to just a handful of scenes, outshined greatly by Ponyo the fish. Who could argue against giving most of the running time to the titular character though, especially one that is so warm and wholesome. It’s just a shame that the supporting characters are limited to a handful of scenes, especially when one or two, with the right build and pacing, could’ve been so much more interesting or even crucial to the plot of the film.
That small issue aside, Ponyo is such a truly enjoyable time. It’s a lot of fun and is a truly breathtaking piece of film. It looks tremendous, sounds great and on the whole is just a solidly enjoyable time. I can’t see anyone having a hard time finding this one to be anything short of an absolute treat, especially when you pair some brilliant direction with some amazing animation and a catchy theme song.