It's here! Disney has just released their official movie poster for Ponyo in the US. As always, you can click on the photo for a larger view.
So what do you think? I have to admit I'm feeling a little disappointed. This is the weakest of all the Ponyo posters we've seen so far. It's weak, not just merely because it fails to match the colorful brilliance of the Japanese original (it's wonderful), but it fails to communicate anything about the movie. All we see is Ponyo set against a deep blue background. There's really no drama here, no story being communicated. It's just a cartoon girl-fish and nothing else.
A great movie poster will communicate all of these things to the viewer. It should grab your attention, bring you into its world, and give you a glimpse of that movie will be like. The Japanese poster does this masterfully. You understand that you are watching a traditional, hand-drawn animation film. You understand the aquatic setting and the port city where the story takes place. And you understand the central character as a visitor to this new world. The tagline, "I'm glad that I was born," gives us a direction as to who Ponyo is and what her story is about.
The Disney poster? Here's what it communicates. Fear. Uncertainty. Contractual obligation. This is a movie poster that hides everything and reveals nothing. All we are given is Ponyo, further away, and a typically tired and cliche Disney tagline.
Here's another thing that struck out at me: the waves in the water. These appear to be computer-generated waves. Now we're really getting somewhere. The prevailing belief in Hollywood is that traditional animation is passe, and computer-generated 3D the new standard. CGI is the wave of the future. Hand-drawn animation? Dead and buried.
Miyazaki's latest movie is entirely CGI-free, and that's one of its great attractions. Yet here is Disney, seemingly burying that fact. Audiences won't go to a 2D animation film. So that fact is somewhat hidden, where it should be celebrated. After all, Disney itself is producing their first hand-drawn animated feature in years. Wouldn't they want to use Ponyo to test the waters?
I've always had this sense that Disney always felt uncomfortable with the Studio Ghibli catalog. They were always slightly nervous with most of the Ghibli films. They really only wanted My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery service, and saw Hayao Miyazaki as Japan's Walt Disney. But Miyazaki is not Walt Disney. He's nowhere even close. Miyazaki is Frederico Fellini; he's Akira Kurosawa; he's Jean Renoir; he's John Lennon. He is not Walt Disney. If you learn nothing else, get that one fact through your heads.
I could sympathize with Disney's frustration and confusion when Miyazaki's latest movies appear on their doorstep. They are so strange, so Japanese, so foreign. They also communicate a universal language, but not in that stilted, stuffed, repressed Stepford Family vibe of the Disney Corporation. And Ghibli, by virtue of its contract, would remain independent of Disney. No cuts. No alterations. And no marketing tie-ins.
So, once again, instead of accepting these films on their own merits, will Disney try to squeeze Ponyo into their tiny, cramped little box? I hope not. I will be very happy to see Ponyo on as many movie screens as possible, with a dub that's equal to Pixar's dubs for Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. This movie has the potential to become a great hit.