Posters - Ponyo (USA)

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.


Brandon Brown said...

This poster is pretty similar to Disney's Spirited Away poster. Both Spirited Away and Ponyo feature somewhat minimalistic, bland designs featuring the lead character with a small amount of backdrop. Chihiro is center stage in front of a black background with just a hint of the shops surrounding the bath house against a solid black background; Ponyo on a barely-visible jellyfish over a blue gradient with some water.

Comparing this Ponyo sheet to its analogous Japanese poster, it seems that Disney is trying to market Ponyo as an adventure-into-the-unknown story. In the original Japanese poster, Ponyo seems to be about eye level with the viewer and has a neutral expression. She also takes up a large amount of space- she may be from under the sea, but she's not out of place here. In the American poster, the our viewpoint is much higher. Ponyo looks up to us with an awed look on her face, mouth hanging open. She's tiny, almost insignificant against the sea of blue. She's in over her head. So it seems that in Japan, the point was to get us to ask "how does this goldfish fit into our world?" while in America, we're supposed to ask "what is this goldfish doing in a totally alien place?"

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

That's an excellent analysis! Thank you so much for sharing. I'm eager to hear as many different viewpoints on the new Ponyo poster as possible.

It's very interesing to think of the poster this way. In your view, then, Ponyo's alienness (both the character and the movie) becomes the central theme. Does this mean we are meant to identify with her, or look upon here from another perspective?

Again, excellent insights, Brandon. Feel free to share more if you like.

Brandon Brown said...

I struggled with that question for a while. I think Disney is banking on both things to happen. We identify with Ponyo because she's so alien. We are literally looking down at her as she enters the world of humans - though that aspect is something the poster only implies. The function of the tagline is to invoke a sense of scale to what we're seeing. A world where anything is possible? Gee whiz, what's that fish gotten into? Who hasn't felt like a fish out of water at some point in their lives? The lack of context of where Ponyo actually is, plus the visual cues (small protagonist in a big sea of blue, expressions, etc) plus the tagline makes it much easier for us to put ourselves in her shoes- er, fins.

szy said...

You've got to be kidding. When I saw the poster I thought it had to be some sort of April's Fools prank. Come on, looks like a complete Nemo ripoff! Seriously, look at the typo, the composition, the CG, the tagline...

It reminds me of the way distributors treated in my country the incredible Gondry film Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. Spanish distributors felt that selling a serious Jim Carrey film wasn't going to be that easy so they tried to fool everybody into thinking the movie was the tipical Carrey stupid flick. They "translated" the film title as "¡Olvídate de mí!", which roughly means "Forget about me!". What a joke.

Seems like Disney doesn't believe either in the film so they're trying to fool the public as well. Shame on them! Ponyo is one of the most beatiful, bold and unique films I've ever seen. It stands completely by its own, no need for fake advertising.

Dave said...

I see your points in comparing this poster to the original Japanese version, but all in all I can't say I dislike the Disney poster because I know it could have been so much worse (over-busy, crammed full of all the characters from the movie, airbrushed-to-death) , so I am content to see a simple, direct design .

(although it is not as strong a design as the good Little Mermaid poster which was barely seen compared to the piece of crap they used as the wide-release poster and VHS cover: crappy Mermaid poster . So you see ? Could have been worse.)

Kevan said...

Maybe I'm just a little too easy going, but I feel like Disney has made the right move here. I'm not saying I think this is a particularly great poster, but unfortunately the art of posters has long died out in the US marketplace.

Disney is playing to the audience, it has to market this movie. In Japan and much of the world, all you need is one TV commercial that highlights "from Hayao Miyazaki" and you're guaranteed your high box office. With that kind of audience Ghibli is free to make a truly artful, engaging, beautiful poster campaign, because it doesn't matter if the poster sells the film or not, it's already in the public's consciousness.

In the US, anyone who would be sold by a trailer even going as far as stating "from the man who brought you Spirited Away," has already been aware of Ponyo for over a year now. They don't need to be sold, that's not who this poster is for. Ponyo should become a children's classic, and Disney needs to sell this to kids.

American children grow up with CG fare left and right, action toons on CN and Nickelodeon; they're overstimulated. The artistic posters from overseas won't interest them, this is a bold colorful poster likely to catch a child's eye from across the hall coming out of Ice Age 3. They'll be drawn to it, and I feel that this striking, mysterious image will pique their curiosity enough for them to ask their parents about it. The Nemoesque font may seem cheesy, but I think it's unique enough and if the kids are reminded to Nemo looking at this, then all the better. Once they're in the seats, they're in for a great ride!

This is where I think the true genius of this is. First of all, this depiction of Ponyo clearly sells the film as 2D animated fare, something people haven't seen in many years at the cinema. Second, the small central image and vertical tagline, I think, is a callback to the Disney classics of the early 90's. This is setup just like the preview posters for Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, and I think the children of yesteryear, today's parents, will go nostalgic for it. That's my hope anyway. Needless to say, I don't feel this should be the Blu-ray cover, but I think it's what this film needs to try to fill those 700 screens!

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

It's common for Hollywood movies to have one teaser poster that's different from the official relase. Usually these teasers do just that - little more than a "coming soon" banner. Sometimes, these posters are better than the final versions, sometimes they're worse. As in all things, it's a matter of taste.

Really, everything comes down to the box-office numbers. If Disney makes Ponyo a hit in the US, then the poster becomes a success. If not, then it becomes an easy target for all the Monday Morning Quarterbacks.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Interesting insight, Kevan. I've read a lot of complimentary words on Disney's Ponyo poster, particularly at Cartoon Brew, and I'm sure they'll agree with what you've said.

I'm looking forward to what the consensus is overall. As, always, we'll cross our fingers and hope for the best.

hjg said...

I hate it, the 3D waves specially.

More Ghibli Blog Posts To Discover