Ponyo – Blu-Ray/DVD Review

Hand-drawn animation is the hallmark of Hayao Miyazaki, and his film, Ponyo, is colorful and filled with delightful characters. A mixture of The Little Mermaid and Splash, this film tells the story of a young fish who desires to be human.

Ponyo and SosukePonyo and Sosuke

Ponyo’s mother is a powerful sea goddess, and her father is a wizard. Ponyo, much like Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, is enamored by life above the ocean. One day she travels to the surface and is rescued by a five-year-old boy. Sosuke names the little goldfish Ponyo. Sosuke and Ponyo become close friends, even though she is a fish. Then, through circumstances of nature, she returns to the sea, and Sosuke holds out hope that he will see his little Ponyo again.

Sosuke’s mother works at a senior center, and his father is a captain on a ship, so the little boy does not have many friends to play with. The feelings he had for Ponyo go deeper than simply a boy and his pet fish. They formed an instantaneous bond that will determine their destiny.

Meanwhile, under the sea, Ponyo’s father keeps her in a bubble so she cannot escape again. However, she is developing powers he is unable to control. Little by little Ponyo becomes human. With the help of her sisters and her underwater friends, Ponyo races to the surface to find her friend Sosuke. When Sosuke sees her, he is amazed that his beloved goldfish is now a little girl.

While Ponyo’s father is causing havoc and trying to get his little girl back, her powerful mother decides that if she truly wants to be a human, then she should be able to follow her heart, provided Sosuke really does love her.

This is a beautiful story and probably Miyazaki’s best film to date. It boasts a star-studded cast of voice talent which includes Noah Lindsey Cyrus (Ponyo), and Frankie Jonas (Sosuke), Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Chloris Leachman, and Betty White. The character of Ponyo is adorable, both as a fish and a little girl.

Ponyo is a sweet movie with wonderful animation. It’s something suitable for the entire family.

Hayao Miyazaki’s DVD Releases

Hayao Miyazaki has created several classic animated films. Besides the release of Ponyo, which is available in a set containing both a DVD and a Blu-ray disc, three other Miyazaki films have been re-released, each in two-disc special editions and with new bonus features: My Neighbor Totoro boasts the voice talents of Tim Daly, Dakota Fanning, and Elle Fanning, Kiki’s Delivery Service with the voices of Kirsten Dunst, Janeane Garofalo, and Debbie Reynolds, and Castle in the Sky, with James Van Der Beek, Anna Paquin, Chloris Leachman, and Mark Hamill.

These are all wonderful family films with beautifully drawn animation and all feature A-list voice talents.

DVD Review – Kingdom of the Spiders

As any Star Trek fan will tell you, one of the all-time unforgettable scenes from the series is in “Trouble With Tribbles.” In that sequence, the gallant Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) opens an overhead cargo bay door only to be buried alive in the little omnivorous fur balls.

Ten years later, Shatner got to recreate that scene, sort of. Only this time the man who later became TJ Hooker and Denny Crane found himself head deep in tarantulas. It’s interesting to note that in Trek Shatner just looked like he was having a bad day. With Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), one gets the impression Shatner isn’t faking it. He’s terrified!

kingdom of the spiders posterA Creepy Film for Cast, Crew, and Audience

As it turns out, in an interview Shatner grants in the Shout! Factory reissue of this classic horror B-movie, Shatner admits as much. He even admits his natural scream is a falsetto.

As historians know, the 70s weren’t the best of times for Shatner. In 1977, the relaunch of the Trek franchise was still a couple of years away. Shatner survived by doing a number of B-movies and TV guest appearances. Some of them, such as 1974’s Big Bad Mama with Angie Dickenson, are now considered grindhouse classics. Most should remain forgotten. Kingdom of the Spiders belongs in the former category.

The plot is pretty simple. Much like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, a small western town is suddenly attacked by what seems like millions of the hairy, creepy crawlies. Unlike the film by the master, there was nowhere near the special effects budget. Shatner is about the only name actor in the cast, unless you count Willie Stroud and Tiffany Bolling.

Most of the movie’s budget went to what Shatner describes as shopping bags full of the big bugs, cans of what we would later call silly string and the prerequisite gummy makeup to make the swollen lumps needed from the bug bites. Even the pyrotechnics, what there were, are an extremely low budget.

Getting Caught In This Spider’s Web

How director John Cardos got around this was by becoming with a semi-credible reason for the ultra-aggressive bugs, an amazingly memorable, haunting soundtrack and properly creepy camerawork. Shatner himself does some pretty credible work as a rancher trying to save the day as does Stroud and Bolling.

If the film isn’t enough of a reason for a Saturday night with a fresh bag of popcorn and ultra-sugar laden carbonated beverage, the extra content cinches the deal. Shatner provides a very generous amount of time on his EC interview segment. Also, pretty funny is an interview with the guy who handled all the tarantulas. If that isn’t enough, there’s also an alternative audio track with commentary from Cardos, movie trailers and a few unfinished, deleted and other included scenes. The film itself is also in fairly pristine condition.

Fans of classic horror films should be glad this film is back in circulation. That it comes in with such fun extras and in clean condition should have everyone screaming (in falsetto) with delight.