Fujimoto (voiced by Liam Neeson) is an environmental sorcerer. He stands on a strange-looking submarine (part machine, part sea creature) and pours magical substances into the ocean. This keeps the environment in balance. Fujimoto has a daughter, Ponyo (Noah Lindsey Cyrus). She is a young goldfish with magical powers. Along with hundreds of younger siblings, she lives with her father under the ocean. One day while exploring the ocean, Ponyo is trapped inside a discarded glass bottle and washed ashore. She is found by a five-year-old boy named Sosuke (Frankie Jonas).
Sosuke lives with both his mother Lisa (Tina Fey), who works at a Seniors Centre, and his father Koichi (Matt Damon), who is a ship’s captain. As Sosuke breaks open the glass jar to free Ponyo, he cuts his finger, which produces a drop of blood. Ponyo licks it, and Sosuke’s finger instantly heals. Sosuke and Ponyo immediately form a bond of love. The friendship is short lived, though, because Fujimoto uses his powers to capture back Ponyo. Sosuke is devastated.
The drop of blood that Ponyo licked gives her strong magical powers. These allow her to transform into a little girl and escape from her father. But Ponyo’s use of magic causes an environmental imbalance, resulting in storms, tidal waves, floods and the appearance of prehistoric sea creatures. During a violent storm, Ponyo rides the backs of giant waves as she chases after Sosuke and his mother (who are trying to outrun the storm). Ponyo is eventually reunited with Sosuke when he reaches the safety of his house.
Fearing for the safety of her senior citizens, Sosuke’s mother leaves Sosuke and Ponyo at home and goes off to see how they are. The following morning the storm has cleared, but Sosuke’s village is submerged in flood waters. Finding no sign of his mother, Sosuke and Ponyo brave the flood waters to search for her. Meanwhile, Fujimoto has contacted Ponyo’s mother, the sea goddess Gran Mamare (Cate Blanchett), to help put the planet back in order. Gran Mamare informs Fujimoto that if Ponyo becomes permanently human, the world will return to normal. For this to happen, Sosuke must prove his love for Ponyo.
Here we outline any topics, issues and ideas in this movie that might upset children and adolescents, so that you can gauge whether it is appropriate for your child. For example, children and adolescents may react adversely to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, separation from a parent, animal cruelty or distress, children as victims, natural disasters and racism.
Myths and legends; environmental disasters
Here we identify any violence in this movie, and explain how and why it might impact on your child or adolescent. In general, movie violence can make children less sensitive to the use of violence in real life. Alternatively, they may become fearful about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world. In some contexts, it can also teach them to see violence as an acceptable means of conflict resolution.
This movie contains no deliberate interpersonal violence, but there are several scenes where characters are hurt or in danger. For example:
- While trying to escape a trawling fishing net, Ponyo becomes ensnared in a glass jar. Sosuke finds the jar and tries to pull Ponyo out by her tail, then breaks the jar open with a rock. Ponyo at first looks dead but revives quickly.
- Fujimoto is hit in the face by ocean litter and is nearly churned up by a boat’s propeller.
- Sosuke’s mother Lisa drives her car across a flooded canal crossing, and the car is almost swept into the sea by waves. Her car nearly crashes head on into a van along a winding mountain road.
- Sosuke is nearly blown over a guard rail, but his mother catches him by the feet and pulls him back.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the scenes mentioned above, this movie contains some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:
- Ponyo squirts water in a little girl’s face. The girl bursts into tears and runs off crying. Ponyo does the same thing to a senior citizen, who becomes upset and distressed.
- Ponyo’s father Fujimoto has a gaunt and threatening appearance.
- Magical water creatures that look like giant black slugs rise up out of the water and chase Sosuke. At one point, they transform into giant waves. Ponyo runs along their backs.
- The slug-like creatures rise up out of the ocean, capture Ponyo and pull her back into the ocean. Sosuke is left crying and distressed on shore.
- Ponyo transforms from a goldfish-like creature to a little girl.
- Sosuke and Ponyo walk through a dark, threatening tunnel. Part way through, Ponyo transforms from a human to a fish-like creature and collapses. Sosuke cries out in distress.
- The sea goddess Gran Mamare is a giant woman, gliding underneath the ocean. She appears on the surface of the water and transforms to normal size.
- Scary-looking prehistoric fish creatures swim around Sosuke and Ponyo as they travel in a boat.
- Hundreds of ships are trapped in a tidal wave.
Children in this age group are unlikely to be disturbed by anything in this movie.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Fujimoto drinks magical substances from ornate bottles. Afterwards he says, ‘I can feel the power of it down into my DNA’.
Nudity and sexual activity
This movie contains no coarse language, but does have some mild name-calling.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Ponyo is an animated fantasy movie. It is superbly animated using hand-drawings and watercolours. The movie is likely to be entertaining for children, particularly from 5-7 years, but also for older children and adults. Younger children will find the movie’s lead characters (Sosuke and Ponyo) both likable and inspiring.
The main messages from this movie are that:
- Pollution caused by humans is taking its toll on the world’s oceans.
- Love conquers all.
- It is best not to judge others by their labels.
- Sometimes we need to take chances and take a giant leap into the unknown.
Values in this movie that you might wish to reinforce with your children include kindness, respect, bravery and empathy.
The movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about issues such as the dangers of:
- disobeying evacuation orders, as Sosuke’s mother does
- leaving two small children alone in a house.