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  Movie Review

Ponyo

By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- An unabashed celebration of the innocence and wonder of childhood, as well as of the imaginative possibilities that can endure well beyond it, "Ponyo" (Disney) is a treat for youthful spirits of every age. This enchanting English-language version of a Japanese animated fable, inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Mermaid," was originally written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, a recognized master of the genre.

As adapted by directors John Lasseter, Brad Lewis and Peter Sohn, the mythic tale is set in motion when a determined little goldfish named Ponyo (voice of Noah Cyrus, sister of actress-singer Miley Cyrus) decides to escape the underwater realm of her domineering father, Fujimoto (voice of Liam Neeson) -- a half-human wizard embittered against his fellow human beings by their abuse of nature -- to explore the world beyond.

Reaching shore, she comes under the protection of Sosuke (voice of the Jonas Brothers' younger sibling Frankie Jonas), a plucky, affectionate 5-year-old boy. With his father Koichi (voice of Matt Damon), a merchant sailor often away at sea, Sosuke is used to providing moral support to his lonely mother Lisa (voice of Tina Fey). He's also a favorite with the residents of the nursing home where Lisa works, a trio of them voiced by Cloris Leachman, Lily Tomlin and Betty White.

Sosuke and Ponyo bond immediately. But, with Fujimoto resolved to use his supernatural powers to reclaim his daughter, Sosuke's love for her will be put to the test in a series of adventures, both before and after Ponyo's mysterious transformation into a little girl.

Japanese cultural elements incorporated into the story -- the script was adapted by Melissa Mathison -- include brief scenes of Shinto prayer and the divine status of Ponyo's mother, Gran Mamare (voice of Cate Blanchett), identified in English as the "goddess of the sea."

But the underlying moral messages, such as the repeated admonition to judge by substance rather than appearance and a deftly delivered warning against environmental carelessness, are universal.

The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G -- general audiences. All ages admitted.

- - -

Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.

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Copyright (c) 2009 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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