Every once in awhile, there’s actually a movie I can watch with my kids that I find nothing wrong with, and when they ask to get the DVD when it comes out, I say "yes!" Case in point is Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo which has been out since August but just came to our little town this weekend. This Studio Ghibli film was charmingly sweet, beautifully rendered, the story focuses on one five year old boy and the "goldfish" he saves which turns human — sort of. If you are thinking...hmmm Little Mermaid? You wouldn’t be far off. This tale is also based in the original Hans Christian Anderson story but that’s where the similarities stop.

But because of the obvious nature of a Disney’s Little Mermaid comparison I had to ponder — how come this girl from the sea has me grinning ear to ear but Disney’s makes me stick all my fingers in my mouth and gag?

For starters, I think the lack of love story that ends in marriage is a great selling point. Disney heroines are always looking to get married. That is their raison d’etre. But Ponyo is five years old just like Sosuke, the boy. They aren’t lovers. They are two kids with a great affection for each other that help and protect each other. We don’t know what they’ll do when they grow up. We know that they love each other and that they are friends which is a point that I think is much closer to what we parents would like our kids to get from a film anyway, right?

And then there’s the scare factor of Disney movies. Why to create suspense must there be a fat and or ugly and or old person who is not like the rest and therefore the witch to be reckoned with? Why must there be some big vendetta. That scares the bejeezus out of little kids that Disney movies are marketed to. Ponyo is not without its bad guys. When Ponyo the fish is first waking up and realizing she’s too close to the surface we see a fishing boat dreg the ocean with its disastrous net capturing fish and garbage. When her father swims after her he keeps bumping into human garbage which doesn’t help his opinion of humans any. But like real life, the bad guy is circumstance, (the father pulling an extra shift because they need money), the weather (tsunamis, flooding), neglect of the environment, and the misunderstandings that happen between people. There is no need to create evil forces and it’s just as entertaining.

One great added plus to the film was the senior citizen center and the characters therein. Not unlike Pixar’s UP earlier this year, Miyazaki incorporated the elderly in a very caring and non patronizing way.

On top of all that, if you are like me, you are really sick of smart alecky, wisecrackin’ kids movies that are full of pop cultural references and poorly constructed dialog. Any Miyazaki film, and this one in particular demonstrates that children can imagine amazing adventures without becoming disrespectful or snotty know it alls. There is a place for sweetness!

To be fair to Disney, at least they know good things when they see them. They are the US distributor for Studio Ghibli films.

Go see it.