Couch Potato

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

Notable titles from the Netflix Watch Instantly world


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.

Theaters are closed until further notice

But if you would like a snapshot to help you remember how things used to be…

Ponyo (2009)

From My Neighbor Totoro to Princess Mononoke to Spirited Away to Howl's Moving Castle, the release of a new animated masterpiece from Hayao Miyazaki is cause for major celebration. This 2008 cartoon fantasy centers on the adventures of a 5-year-old boy who befriends a goldfish princess named Ponyo who dreams of becoming human. This loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid is clearly aimed at younger audiences, but the visuals are a trippy treat for all ages. 101 minutes G.


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

Astro Boy
Astro Boy

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.