Couch Potato

I Like to Watch (Instantly): Ponyo, Astro Boy

Notable titles from the Netflix Watch Instantly world


Ponyo (2008)

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Noah Cyrus, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Frankie Jonas, Cloris Leachman, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Betty White

Ponyo is a great film. Some have dismissed it as sub-par Miyazaki, but those people are wrong. The intrusion of a cosmic magical force into an everyday community could be terrifying, but here it is only a source of joy and playfulness as the normal rules of reality are temporarily suspended. I saw this film five times in the theater, mostly just so I could watch the scene where Sosuke’s toy pop-pop boat grows big enough to carry him (and Ponyo) on a journey through a flooded town as prehistoric fish prowl through the water below. Wow.

So I have mixed feelings about Ponyo being on Netflix WI. On the one hand, this criminally-underrated and under-seen film should be viewed by as many people as possible. On the other hand, the delicate seaside pastels and fluid animation gets short shrift from the non-HD version available. Actually, it probably looks fine on the Roku, so go for it.

Astro Boy
Astro Boy

Astro Boy (2009)

Directed by David Bowers

Cast: Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Nathan Lane, Eugene Levy, Matt Lucas, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Charlize Theron, Nicolas Cage, Sterling Beaumon

While our own Devin D. O’Leary saw some of the charms of this monumental summer flop, the bulk of the mainstream critics seemed utterly appalled by the fact that the story begins with the death of a child—and that, furthermore, Astro Boy, a near-perfect replica of the dead child, is cruelly rejected by his father. Ahem, dudes, that’s the story of Astro Boy! As in, verbatim from the original Tezuka manga. Kids in the ’60’s got to see that in the first episode of the black-and-white cartoon and nobody squawked. As Ponyo is to The Little Mermaid, Astro Boy is to Pinocchio, except that he’ll never be a real boy.

Astro Boy’s action-heavy story also has a rather succesful Act Two (featuring the good old sci-fi trope of a subjegated underclass living in the shadows of the gleaming utopia), but the unavoidable fight-scene finale of Act Three gets fairly old. The film is most effective when it explores the essential dilemma of Astro Boy: “Who am I?” Netflix rip is (again) not HD, but looks good.