Well, as it turned out, we didn't love it. Spoilers commence.
It began as a marine biologist's dream--gorgeous underwater scenes that weren't all about dolphins and turtles, with plenty of gooey invertebrates, and actual plankton! Plus a message of environmental conservation--a magician who's angry with humans for harming the oceans, and a rather bleak and frightening scene of a trawl net tearing up the already polluted ocean bottom. Classic Miyazaki, right? But (in my opinion) the movie just didn't sustain the awesome.
So I rewrote it.
Before posting my version of Ponyo, though, I figured I owed the reader some explanation of why I was so discontent with Miyazaki's version. But I was too lazy to write a movie review myself, so I poked around online until I found a nicely articulate one that addressed my concerns*.
According to this review, the problem is just that I'm an adult. Little kids, apparently, don't care if a story is "chock-a-block with inconsistent internal logic, head-scratching plot turns and nonsensical story progression." Grown-ups do. And I cared, oh, how I cared! The movie was crammed with logic hiccups--the worst for me was the total lack of distinction between seawater and tap water. Apparently Ponyo is the most euryhaline fish ever.
Two salient points from the review I will quote in full:
I was reading this after rewriting the story, and I recognized these as the very story elements that I'd changed! I desperately wanted the wizard's dislike of humanity to fuel the main conflict (and for there to actually be conflict at all), and I wanted more of Lisa. So here's my version, somewhat validated by the opinions of a random Anime News Network reviewer. I tried to keep some of the Miyazaki feeling by not overthinking the plot too much . . .It's light as a feather, with little to no real meaning or subtext - the wizard's generic dislike of humanity doesn't fuel the main conflict (which is hardly much of a conflict at all, really) and is more of a side note than a real theme within the film . . .
. . . there's one character - Sosuke's mother, Lisa - who provides something of a ground for adults, and is a delight every time she's on screen. She is portrayed as a strong, caring, rational and totally modern mother figure, with plenty of human flaws peeking through the cracks. Her tender and realistic relationship with Sosuke - and ultimately, Ponyo - is a big highlight of the film, and her scenes provide a subtle but potent refuge for adult viewers who may need a break from the tempest of fairytale madness that inhabits the rest of the story.
Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea
rewritten from the movie by Hayao Miyazaki, which was, in turn, inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Mermaid" (yes really)
A magician named Fujimoto lives far out to sea in a beautiful submarine laboratory. Once he was human, but he grew to despise humanity for its careless disregard of the earth, especially the ocean. Angered by rampant pollution, habitat destruction, and overfishing, he used his magic arts to change himself so he could live and breathe in the sea. He spoke with sharks, chatted with cuttlefish, and danced with many other creatures, deep and strange and nameless. From among his aquatic acquaintances, he took many wives, and for the children they bore, he built a garden on his submarine.
The children have food, and room to play, and the company of their siblings, but they miss their mothers, who stayed behind in their reefs and rocks and nests. The magician is a neglectful father. He teaches them magic when it suits him, for he will need their help in his master scheme to cleanse the ocean of human abuse once and for all. But most of his time is absorbed in other parts of his plan, and the children are left to amuse themselves.
One of his daughters is a magic little fish named Ponyo. She is not the eldest or the youngest, nor even the cleverest or most beautiful. Nevertheless this story is about her, for one day she manages to squirm out of the magician's garden, and finds herself free in the wide open sea. She catches a ride on the bell of a passing jellyfish, who takes her all the way to the waters of a small coastal town.
Leaving the jellyfish to explore on her own, Ponyo suddenly finds herself scooped into a fishing boat's trawl net. As it drags along the bottom, the net churns silt into the water. Ponyo can hardly see, and she has to dodge rocks, bottles, and all the other fish and shrimp trapped in the net. She gets stuck in a bottle, but luckily, she and the bottle are both so small that they slip right through one of the holes in the net.
With her tail sticking out of the bottle's mouth, Ponyo tries to swim towards the surface. A wave picks up her bottle and washes it onto the sand of a small beach.
He finds Ponyo on the beach, in the morning before school starts, and frees her from the bottle. She doesn't want to go back in the ocean, so he fills a bucket with seawater and puts her in it. His mother is calling that it's time to go, so he rushes back up to the house and into the car, lovingly carrying his bucket along.
In the car, Sosuke shares his breakfast with Ponyo, who decides she loves human food. He introduces her to the old ladies at the nursing home, and to the other kids in school. As Ponyo learns more about the human world, she uses her magic to become more and more human. By the end of the day, when Sosuke and Ponyo ride home with Lisa, Ponyo isn't a fish any longer--she's a little girl. Lisa is surprised, but takes it in stride, and decides to keep Ponyo for the night.
After Sosuke and Ponyo are asleep, Lisa goes outside to sit by the ocean. She is glad that her son has found a friend to play with, but also sad, because Sosuke is her only companion when Koichi's gone. She starts talking to the ocean about how much she wants to take care of it, but doesn't know what to do.
Meanwhile, the magician Fujimoto has finished his spell to cleanse the earth of human pollution, and is looking for a human vector to release it into the world. He sees his opportunity in Lisa, and invites her into the ocean, encasing her in a bubble of air and showing her all the wonders under the water. Sosuke sees his mother leave and screams for her to come back. She doesn't hear him, but Ponyo wakes up and asks him what's wrong. He tells her what he saw. Ponyo realizes that it was her magician father, who is trying to destroy all humans. They go after Lisa to warn her.
Fujimoto convinces Lisa that she can save the ocean by taking his spell and setting it free on land, but he doesn't tell her what it will do. Before she can take it home, though, Ponyo and Sosuke find her. Ponyo tells Lisa what Fujimoto is really up to, and Sosuke reminds her that she loves Koichi, even though he's a fisherman, and wants to protect humanity, even when it's foolish. They destroy the spell, which causes a
terrible storm, and turns Ponyo back into a fish.
terrible storm, and turns Ponyo back into a fish.
The other part of Fujimoto's plan, after he killed all humans, was to have his many magical children travel around the oceans, using their magic to clean up all the pollution and plastic, and restoring the balance of nature. Ponyo suggests that all the other children go out and start doing that now. Fujimoto claims that it's no good to clean up while humans are still around, because they'll just mess it all up again.
Ponyo insists she's going to turn back into a human, so Fujimoto's spell, if he creates it again, will kill her too--and Lisa and Sosuke, whom she loves. Finally Fujimoto promises to stop trying to kill humans, as long as they work to stop polluting the oceans and fish sustainably.
The rest of Fujimoto's children all swim out of the garden to visit their mothers and begin the great cleanup. Everyone is happy, except that Ponyo finds that she can't turn herself human again, because she lost her magic when they destroyed the spell. Fujimoto agrees to use his magic to make her human, if Sosuke will prove he returns her love by kissing her when they reach the surface. In the magician's eyes, this is the first step towards redeeming humanity.
Lisa, Sosuke, and Ponyo swim back to the surface, where Ponyo turns back into a girl, and Koichi fishes the three of them out of the water onto his boat. Lisa and Koichi kiss too, and start making plans for the human side of ocean conservation.
* I have one big complaint that I haven't seen in a single review of this movie: Did the ending credits really have to be in comic sans? Really?