Ponyo is an imaginative retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. Set in a Japanese harbour town, the film follows the story of Sosuke, a five year-old who finds a mermaid while playing in the ocean. Ponyo quickly takes a liking to Sosuke, but her father doesn't want her to spend time with humans. He retrieves her and takes her back to his underwater house. Ponyo then decides that she would rather be with Sosuke, and returns back to the human world.
The artwork in the film is superb. In an age of pixel perfect Pixar productions, it's nice to see such high production quality out of a traditional hand-drawn animation film. The forces of nature are shown to dominate human culture. This is a common theme in Japanese art, an example of which is this iconic Ukiyo-e woodblock print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa.
In the film, a combination of the human's mistreatment of the sea, and Ponyo's ascension out of the ocean has put the natural world out of order. The Moon is gradually falling out of it's orbit, so the tidals forces are much larger. Because of this, the water level rises drastically, totally engulfing Sosuke's small town. With the help of Ponyo's magic, she and Sosuke explore this newly aquatic world together. All of the town's residents pull together and are positive about the ongoing disaster, which only Sosuke and Ponyo can put an end to.
It's an extremely enjoyable film. My only gripe is with the casting of the English language version voice over actors. It appears that the Disney corporation chose who would do these voices, as a Jonas brother and one of Billy-Ray Cyrus' offspring provide the voices for Sosuke and Ponyo. The actors did a decent job, but still tainted the film with the taste Disney's pablum culture. Regardless, it is one of the best animated films of the year.