Yesterday, I watched Ponyo, an animated Japanese children’s movie. It reminded me of another movie, Spirited Away, and a quick check at Netflix told me they were both directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Spirited Away won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003. The animation in these movies is gorgeous, though some of the imagery disturbs me, as do the stories.
In the one I saw yesterday, I’m not sure I ever understood what the father of Ponyo was. Though he lives and breathes underwater, he looks human, with bizarre hair, but he’s horrified that his daughter—born a fish—wants to become human. In the English-language version, Liam Neeson is the voice of this character, and though I’m a Neeson fan, his voice coming out of this character’s mouth only added to the weirdness.
Although both these movies mesmerized me, they seem so different from American animated children’s movies, I’m surprised our children like them. Then again, I don’t see a lot of children’s movies anymore, so maybe they’ve changed. Or maybe I should be comparing them to our folk tales of old. These two Japanese movies did remind me of the fairy tales I read as a child. The ones that frightened me.
Did I worry there might be real witches with candy houses and ovens built for children? You bet. Did it cross my mind that my father might do something like indenture me to spin straw into gold for the rest of my life? In a word, yes. Think of all the tales that feature a wicked step-mother. I did … every time my parents argued. As an adult I understand those tales reflected the harshness of the times in which they originated, but as a child that aspect flew over my head. A part of me believed these things might be possible.
This image from Ponyo particularly spooked me. Every time I stand at ocean’s edge, I fear I am seconds away from seeing something huge—and alive—rising out of it. So, even though she was beautiful, the image of Ponyo’s mother gave me pause.
Sometimes imagination is a curse.
Tell me, did any children’s stories worry or scare you? Or were you precocious enough to go deeper, analyzing the symbolism and allegory?
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