"Grown-up people find it difficult to believe really wonderful things," said children's writer E. Nesbit. Nesbit herself was an exception to that rule, as is the remarkable animator Hayao Miyazaki, whose gorgeous oceanic adventure Ponyo completely immerses viewers young and old in an embarrassment of rich, wonderful things.
With what threatens to be the aging director's last movie (he's retired once already), Miyazaki reworks the Little Mermaid fairy tale for a cast of very small children. Nine-year-old Noah Cyrus plays the title character, a mermaid who becomes fascinated with a little boy named Sosuke (8-year-old Frankie Jonas)-the only son of a working-class family on a small island in Japan.
Instead of the Disney company's kindly King Triton, Ponyo's father is Fujimoto (Liam Neeson), an evil wizard out to destroy the human race for its carelessness with the ocean. Ponyo's little-girl crush on Sosuke, then, makes him understandably upset.
Ponyo, though, is anything but a green-is-good sermon. Disney, which distributes the movie in the United States, got Toy Story director and Pixar chief John Lasseter to direct the flawless English-language dub, and the children in this film are just perfect.
Ponyo, fresh out of the sea, talks like a little girl just learning her first words, as well as her first likes (ham) and dislikes (being taken away from Sosuke). When the two get on the radio to chat with dad, who is out at sea, Sosuke's mother (a fun Tina Fey) says, "We wanted you to know that we're all doing fine."
"I'm taking care of everyone," explains Sosuke.
"Ham!" adds Ponyo.
The movie, rated G but with a few scary moments, is eminently appropriate for children the age of its young performers, but its amazing vision of creation, especially the sea creatures, is bound to delight their parents as well. Miyazaki's characters use magic, true, but his first love is and will always be the beautiful world around him, and it shows through in every frame.