SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING: Breaking out;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS: Responsibility; Caring.
AT A GLANCE: Age: 5 – 8; MPAA Rating — G; Animated; 1989; 103 minutes; Color.
This warm-hearted fairy tale entertains ages 5 to 95 taking elements from Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid” to present an allegory reminding us that the balance of nature can be maintained only if mankind cares for the environment and takes responsibility to protect it. Ponyo is a very special goldfish, the daughter of the sea goddess Granmamare and Fujimoto, a Wizard who has rejected the human race as hopeless polluters. Fujimoto has gone to live under the ocean and is responsible for maintaining the balance between land and sea. He becomes distressed when Ponyo, who has inherited many of her parents’ magical powers, falls in love with a five-year old boy, Sôsuke (pronounced with the primary emphasis on the first syllable and a secondary emphasis on the last syllable).
To be with her beloved, Ponyo wants to become human. This defection by a child of the sea goddess upsets the balance between land and ocean which is only restored when Sôsuke commits to love and take care of Ponyo. The villain, if there is one, is mankind’s relentless proclivity to pollute. All of the characters show kindness and regard for others across the generations and many are memorable such as Sôsuke’s mother and Ponyo’s father.
This film was written, drawn and directed by the great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.
The story is an allegory asking people to protect the oceans. Miyazaki’s hand-drawn animation is beautiful. All of the characters show kindness and regard for others. Ponyo shows determination. Sôsuke accepts responsibility.
TALKING FOR VERBAL, SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Which character was your favorite? — If you could have any of the characters in the movie as a friend, which would you choose? — Why is that?
→ Always encourage your child to form opinions and to share them.
→ Open-ended questions will help get a discussion going.
Do you think Ponyo’s mother and father and sisters will miss her? Do you think she will miss them? When you miss someone, what do you do to make yourself feel better?
→ Just talking with your child fosters verbal, social and emotional learning.
→ Exercise memory skills by asking about the story, the characters, and the plot. Keep it light and fun.
What did you like best about the movie?
→ Young children love Story Time.
DISCUSSIONS BASED ON THEMES IN THE MOVIE
Select questions appropriate for your child.
1. Why is the balance between the oceans and the earth restored when Sôsuke promises to love and take care of Ponyo? Talking About It — Because, unless mankind takes care of the oceans we will change them so drastically that it will cause other changes in the environment which will hurt the plants, people and other animals. For example, if the seas are polluted the fish will become sick and may even die.
→ When a parent takes a concept from the movie seriously, a child will start thinking about the lessons of the film. Often, it only takes one comment to start a child’s mind going.
2. What did you think about Fujimoto, Ponyo’s father? Was he scary? Was he strange? Talking About It — No matter how scary and strange Fujimoto was, he loved his daughter and wanted her to be happy. That’s the most important thing.
→ You can talk about a movie at any time: right after it is over, in the car on the way to school, during quiet time, or before bed.
→ Don’t feel obligated to cover everything in this Guide. One or two questions are all that some children will tolerate. However, if your child watches the movie more than once, on each occasion start a new conversation or pick a new activity. This will enhance verbal development and increase the number of lessons your child takes from the film.
PLAYING FOR GROWTH
1. Drawing Fun — Children have thoughts and feelings that are not easily expressed in words. They may be able to share them using art or music. Offer your child pencils and crayons in bright colors to draw a picture or water colors to paint Ponyo’s world under the sea. The feelings can come out through the use of shape and color. Remind your child that Ponyo’s father had red hair and he wore a blue striped suit. Remind him or her about the soft pastel colors of Ponyo’s mother. Ponyo’s dress was red. Maybe your child would want her to have a blue or a green dress. Talk about the color choices as you and your child draw together. Your child can learn how to express feeling through color. Ask him or her to choose colors to draw the ocean when it is scary or when it is calm or when it is stormy or when it seems to be angry.
2. Acting It Out — Should you have more than one child watching the film, a sibling or a neighbor, you can encourage them to act out the various roles. They may want to find clothing to dress up as the characters they play, such as the Goddess of Mercy or Ponyo’s father. In their acts, they can use the obstacle course, a space where the old ladies are housed, Sôsuke’s home and the bubble wherein occurs the final scene. Allow the children to change the story as much as they want. Play acting is fun for children in proportion to the freedom they have to add elements to the script. Especially artistic groups of children may want to build a set or paint a backdrop.
3. A Trip to the Library — The library will have several books with wonderful pictures of fish and undersea life. Share these books with your child, again mentioning how beautiful it is in the world of water. Try to find the book, A Fish Out of Water, and read it with your child. It is about a fish that is overfed and outgrows his tank. You may want to show the child pictures of huge fish, such as whales, and point out that they can never outgrow their home in the ocean where they belong.
Stories are essential tools for verbal development, social-emotional learning, and character education. Intentional parents can use family movies as a basis for storytelling.
Repeat the story of the movie at bedtime, on a rainy day, or at any quiet time. Let your child correct you if you make a mistake and, better yet, encourage your child to tell you the story. Both of you can invent new adventures for Ponyo, Sôsuke, Fujimoto, Lisa and Ponyo’s little sisters. The incidents in your stories should explore the themes of the movie.
The best part of storytelling involves allowing children to contribute their own ideas to the plot line. Use Ponyo as the basis of story telling, but be certain that your child helps as an author. The stories should use Ponyo and Sôsuke as central characters but give them new adventures, new people to rescue or more fish to help emerge from the sea onto land. Each of the stories must have a problem. The solutions to the problems can use magic or simply the talents of Ponyo and Sôsuke or any other characters. Consider introducing the following concepts:
- When Ponyo becomes human, will she go to school? What conflict may arise in a classroom that Ponyo will be able to resolve? What if here is a fish tank in the room in which one lonely fish swims? Can Ponyo do something about this?
- Ponyo may want to go back to the sea for a visit and take Sôsuke with her. What might she see? How will Sôsuke adjust? Be sure to allow the introduction of magic to the story so that Ponyo and Sôsuke can survive under the water. Might Ponyo’s father decide to keep them both under the sea and refuse to let them return to land? How would the two of them find their way back?
- Ponyo’s father introduced the idea that the ocean was in danger because of human activity. Bring up a problem with pollution, such as the amount of trash on the ocean floor as was shown when Ponyo was caught in the fishing net of the North Pacific Gyre, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Then create a tale in which Ponyo and Sôsuke help solve the problem. They may want to enlist Sôsuke’s father and the ship’s crew to help clean up the ocean.
- Maybe Ponyo and Sôsuke will want to travel to another part of the world, such as the neighborhood where your child lives. They will need a problem to solve and you can select from anything with which your child is familiar or you can decide that your neighborhood needs an ocean and Ponyo and Sôsuke can be in charge of creating one.
- You may want to use Ponyo’s sisters as main characters for a new story line. Maybe one of the sisters will decide she wants to visit the moon after one especially bright moonlit night and your story can follow her as she tries to get to the moon. There are many sisters and thus many potential stories.
The following can be used as a story starter from which you can wander into any direction you choose:
One day the winds blew a blustery storm over the ocean. The waves grew and grew until they were taller than the people and the houses and the trees along the sea shore. Everyone ran to safety. Even the dogs and cats hurried to the tallest hills and watched the waves slap against the land below. Soon the storm blew away to another place and the ocean was calm once again.
Ponyo and Sôsuke came down from the hilltop and looked at the people and the houses and the trees. They saw little fishes everywhere! In the hair of the people! On the rooftops of the houses! In the nests birdies had built in the trees.
“Oh dear, oh dear” the children said. “We must get all these fishes back into the ocean.”
From this starting place, you can have Ponyo and Sôsuke save the fishes in silly and magical and even logical ways.
BRIDGES TO READING
Parents can read Hans Christian Anderson’s story “The Little Mermaid”. Read it yourself first. Anderson’s story has some very dark aspects.