This has been one amazing year for animated films. At least four of them are contenders for my list of the year's best films, and a few others are good enough to warrant a second viewing. But despite that, the majority of them are in 3D, and rated PG, neither of which appeals much to my 3-1/2 year old son who is beginning to ask to come to the movies with me. There's one exception, still in theaters, that stands apart from all the rest of the competition: Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo (163 screens). Ponyo is hand-drawn (rather than computer-animated), not in 3D, and so far is the only G-rated movie of the year. (I'm not counting two others: Hannah Montana: The Movie, or Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience, about which the less said, the better.)
Yet Ponyo hasn't exactly been lighting its United States audience on fire. Or maybe it just feels like we have already forgotten about it, despite some good voice work by Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson and others. It doesn't seem to be on the cinematic radar anymore, even though it did well in its home of Japan. Perhaps audiences were turned off by the fact that Disney-sanctioned Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas were cast to perform the two lead children, or that they recorded a truly insufferable song for the closing credits. Or perhaps the movie is too simple and too gentle. When Miyazaki's gorgeous, dark Spirited Away opened here in 2002, the time seemed right, and enthusiasm for his work ran high; the movie was ushered in as a major event in the history of animation.