A story about first love and children making their first steps into maturity is old ground for Studio Ghibli, but the aquatic elements and snappy pacing make Ponyo a fun ride nonetheless.
Like My Neighbour Totoro, the film explores the way children can accept wonder and magic and all of life’s surprises in an unquestioning way, but unlike My Neighbour Totoro, conflict and a more standard plot (strapped to a fairy tale) labour this one down at times. What works is the movie feels designed for children rather than about or around them. The equal weight to which preparations of food and the dramatic magical setpieces are given, the way neither seems to have any more novelty than each other, works well and really does place the viewer in a child’s mindset.
The way love is portrayed is almost confounding if not approached with the thought process of a child. It’s not just a matter of making great child characters, but accurately conveying their worldview into the actual film; it’s not a film for children, it’s holistically a “children’s film”. Miyazaki makes it all look so easy you barely notice how deft he is at making an engaging, cohesive story where conflict is sidelined in favour of expression and self-actualisation (though not as sidelined as in the much superior My Neighbour Totoro). Three goldfish and a jellyfish.