Behind the Scenes of PONYO: Honoring a Master Artist

By Dr. Tom Snyder, Editor

Making the English language version of Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki’s PONYO ON THE CLIFF has been a labor of love for John Lasseter, head of Pixar and Disney’s animation studios.

“For a long time, I have wanted American audiences to discover Miyazaki-san’s films,” he said. “I’ve dedicated myself to try and do what I can to bring these movies to American audiences. Once you watch one of them, they kinda blow you away and you want to see more.”

Miyazaki’s movies have been an influence on the beloved animated movies that Pixar itself has made, Lasseter noted.

“We’ve studied many of his action sequences,” he revealed, “and how he does what he’s able to achieve. It’s been very inspiring for us.

He added:

“Miyazaki-san celebrates the quiet moments in movies, which is very opposite of Hollywood tendencies, you know, of loud and faster, more and more and more, quicker cutting. If you watch his films, there’s a few places where there are these beautiful quiet moments. What he does is it actually sets up sequences that come right before or right after because of the contrast. I think if you watch UP, Pete Doctor and myself were so inspired by this that there are some beautiful moments in UP that are really, very Miyazaki-like in the quietness of it.”

Lasseter said the biggest challenge of dubbing the movie into English, besides casting the voices, was in translating the Japanese in such a way that the story still flows smoothly.

“The goal is,” he said, “for the language to be very natural so you don’t think of this as being a dubbed Japanese film. That’s not what we want. We want everybody to get just swept away by this beautiful story and visuals and the characterizations. So, we work really hard to make it seem as natural as possible.”

Miyazaki said he wasn’t worried about how his friends at Pixar and Disney would translate his script and dub in the actors’ voices.

“I entrusted the English version to my trusted friends, so I didn’t worry about it at all. I just stayed in Japan and didn’t worry.”

Miyazaki said he can’t describe how he gets the inspiration for his movies.

“It’s really hard to explain what is the motivation or instigation to do a film,” he said. “I feel like I’m searching in my subconscious with a fishing net and I happened upon catching a goldfish in that net. That was the inspiration for starting to make this movie.”

At Comic-Con in San Diego, however, Miyazaki told the crowd, “My process is thinking, thinking and thinking, thinking about my stories for a long time. If you have a better way, let me know.”

Miyazaki told MOVIEGUIDE®, “I do all my work by storyboard. So, as I draw my storyboard, my world gets more and more complex. In the result, my north, south, east, west directions shift and go off-base, but it seems my staff and the audience don’t quite realize it.

“Don’t tell them about it,” he joked.

One of PONYO’S most important themes is the relationship between parents and their children. Miyazaki said that both parents and children should love and listen to one another.

“The most important thing, even in such an environment, as children grow up, they learn to love.”

Chloris Leachman, who plays one of the senior citizens that the little boy and his mother in the movie befriend, did not think twice about doing her voicework on PONYO.

“If it’s Disney, I know I can trust it,” she said.

Even then, however, she said she was completely surprised by the final film.

“I had no idea what a huge thing I was involved with until I saw it last night. It’s a very universal film, yet extremely unusual.

“This is the most extraordinary film. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. Ever. It’s more than satisfying. It just fills you up with the way they’ve done everything, with the decisions they’ve made. The artwork is just brilliant, beautiful. It just raises your heart. My heart got bigger and got eyes on it. That little girl running along the waves was just hysterical.”

“I’ve been very lucky that people [still] call,” she laughed, when asked about all the work she’s been doing lately.

After her experience with DANCING WITH THE STARS, would she go on another reality show?

“I can’t wait!” she exclaimed.

“What a wonderful experience it was to be with such an amazingly well organized organization. There’s nothing you do that has not been anticipated, nothing you need nothing you want, nothing you feel, that hasn’t been anticipated and solved. You are completely cared for!”

What does she like about doing comedy versus drama?

“There’s no versus,” she said. “I love comedy. It’s just the most fun! And, I always bring a little comedy to serious things anyway. I bring drama to comedy also. It kind of becomes a matter of emphasis.

“You have to be awfully serious to do comedy,” she added. “You have to really mean it, or want it, or do it. You have to give it your all, or throw it away.”

Chloris has a new clothing line, which is available at

The two major stars of the movie are Noah Cyrus, the younger sister of Mylie Cyrus, and Frankie Jonas, the younger brother of The Jonas Brothers. Noah, 9, plays the voice of Ponyo, the magical goldfish that wants to be human. Frankie, 8, plays the little boy that Ponyo befriends.

What did they think about doing their first movie?

“It’s pretty cool because when you usually go to the premiere, it’s usually for his brothers or my sister and it’s cool for us to have our own movie,” Noah said.

“I’m excited for people to see this movie,” Frankie added. “We thought it was awesome!”

Noah said she doesn’t have a favorite scene from the movie but liked all of them.

Frankie said he also liked the whole movie, but his favorite scene was when the goldfish transformed into a girl was trying to wake up the little boy and they banged heads.

Any advice from their famous older siblings about doing press interviews?

“Mine was good luck and stay positive,” Frankie said.

“My sister told me to always have fun when you do it,” Noah said.

Noah’s favorite animated movies are THE LITTLE MERMAID and TINKERBELL.

“I like to play with my animals and I like to hang out with my friends,” she added. “I like to post on Twitter what I’m doing and where I’m about to go and after I’m done and I’m home.”

Noah wants to become a singer like her sister, Miley, and Frankie plays drums for a band he started with his buddy James, which they are calling Franjam.

Frankie also said he wants to be Secretary of Defense under his brother, Nick, who has said he wants to be President of the United States some day.


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