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Even Americanized, 'Ponyo' is magical

The more I think about "Ponyo," Disney's Americanized version of Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki's magical twist on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid," the more I admire its ability to spin animated fantasy.

I'm usually not a fan of films from other countries that have been Americanized for mainstream consumption.  Not only do we rarely get a filmmaker's full vision in those instances, key elements are often lost in translation.

That happens to some extent in "Ponyo."  But with American animation master John Lasseter, the Pixar guru now working under the Disney/Pixar banner, at the transition helm as co-director (with Brad Lewis and Peter Sohn), creative seepage is held to a minimum.

"Ponyo" is the enchanting tale of a deep sea goldfish-girl who rides a jellyfish to the surface, then meets and falls in love with a curious little 5-year-old boy named Sosuke.

Lasseter is wise to keep the Japanese names in place, even though recognizable voices Tina Fey (Sosuke's mother), Liam Neeson (Fujimoto, the under-sea scientist), Cloris Leachman (Noriko), Lily Tomlin (Toki) and Betty White (Yoshie) purr through the speakers.

Sosuke and his mom live in a house on a cliff by the sea.  Dad (voiced by Matt Damon) lives there too.  But he's a fisherman and never quite seems able to get home.

Sosuke, wise beyond his five years, is close friends with residents (Leachman, Tomlin and White) of the senior citizens' home where his mother works. 
Once he rescues the curious little wide-eyed "goldfish" from the sea, however, the curious little boy transfers almost all of his attention to the precocious little girl-fish.

Anyone who keeps up with pop society will be amused that Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas, who lend their voices to Ponyo and Sosuke respectively, are the junior siblings of pop sensations Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers.

Lasseter may have seen the value in this novelty, or he may have been nudged a little by Disney management when it came time to cast the vocal roles. 
It doesn't matter, though.  Cyrus and Jonas, young (both 8) performers in their own right, are just fine vocalizing the strange relationship between a human boy and a chickie of the sea.

Even without its native voice, "Ponyo" explodes on screen with the magical enchantment and vibrant colors Oscar winner Miyazaki ("Spirited Away," "Howl's Moving Castle")  is famous for.

I'd love to understand Japanese so that I could soak in every nuance of "Ponyo."  With that not a possibility, the Americanized version is a fitting substitute, although it treads water a little too long on screen for animated fare aimed at kids.


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