LEARNING GUIDE TO:
SUBJECTS — Literature/World; World/Japan;Age: 5+; MPAA Rating -- G; Animation; 100 minutes; Color; 2008; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
Description: This warm-hearted fairy tale entertains ages 5 to 95 taking elements from Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Mermaid" to present an allegory reminding us that the balance of nature can be maintained only if mankind cares for the environment and takes responsibility to protect it. Ponyo is a very special goldfish, the daughter of the sea goddess Granmamare and Fujimoto, a Wizard who has rejected the human race as hopeless polluters. Fujimoto has gone to live under the ocean and is responsible for keeping the sea in balance. He becomes distressed when Ponyo, who has inherited many of her parents' magical powers, falls in love with a five-year old boy, Sôsuke (the "u" is silent, there are only two syllables and the emphasis is on the first syllable).
To be with her beloved, Ponyo wants to become human. This defection by a child of the sea goddess upsets the balance of nature which is only restored when Sôsuke commits to love and take care of Ponyo. The villain, if there is one, is mankind's relentless proclivity to pollute. All of the characters show kindness and regard for others across the generations and many are memorable such as Sôsuke's mother and Ponyo's father.
This film was written, drawn and directed by the great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.
Rationale for Using the Movie: Ponyo is an example of allegory, demonstrates that some stories do not have clearly definable antagonists and protagonists, shows excellent development of the character of at least three of the major characters, and contains several several social emotional lessons. It is beneficial for students to watch films by Miyazaki, a masterful animator and story teller.
Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will learn about allegory, the importance of taking responsibility for protecting the environment, ways in which story tellers can modify the usual roles of antagonist and protagonist, and how, even in animated films, characters can be well-developed. Students will be motivated to complete research and writing assignments based on this movie.
Possible Problems: None.
WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.
USING PONYO IN THE CLASSROOM
Before showing the film give the class a definition of allegory.
An allegory is an artistic device in which the characters and events of the story represent something more than what is directly stated. The literal content of an allegorical work is less important than its symbolic meaning. Allegory is employed in literature, visual arts, drama, and dance.Tell students that there are elements of allegory in this movie and ask them to look for the allegory as they watch the film.
After Showing the Movie
1. Ponyo's mother is the goddess of the sea called Granmamare. She is beautiful and calms the oceans. Her mercy extends to humans and she is able to help restore the balance of nature through Sôsuke's test. What does her name mean? What test must Sôsuke pass? What happens when he passes the test? Suggested Response: Ponyo's mother is the great ("gran") mother ("ma") of the sea ("mare"). The test Sôsuke must pass is to prove that he will love Ponyo and take on the responsibility to care for her whether she is fish or human. Sôsuke shows his love for Ponyo when he releases her into the water as it appears she is dying. He later declares to her mother and Granmamare that he really loves Ponyo and knows it is a big responsibility. When Sôsuke passes the test the balance of nature is restored.
2. What is the allegory in this story? Which characters stand for other things and what is the message the moviemakers want the audience to receive? Suggested Response: Sôsuke stands for mankind (Fujimoto tells him that, "You are the only one who can save the planet" and he receives bounty from the sea (Ponyo). Ponyo represents the creatures in the sea. The message is that mankind will disrupt the balance of nature by using the sea and taking the bounty of the sea unless we love and care for it.
3. Is there an antagonist in this movie? If you think there is, who or what is it? Is there a single protagonist in this movie or a group? Identify the protagonist(s). Suggested Response: There is no one correct response. The discussion should include the following concepts. One interpretation is that the antagonist is the human tendency to pollute the oceans. This is what disturbs the balance of nature before Sôsuke commits to love and take care of Ponyo. Another but weaker argument could be made that the risk that Sôsuke would not love and take responsibility to care for Ponyo is the antagonist. As for the protagonist(s), it could be said that Ponyo is the protagonist; after all, she takes the risks and her desire to be human is the force for change. A stronger argument can be made that Ponyo's demand to be a human is part of the background of the story and that the protagonists are Fujimoto, Granmamare, Ponyo and Sôsuke, all of whom cooperate to unite the two children in love and to restore the balance of nature. Another strong argument can be made that in Ponyo as in other love stories, the protagonists are the two lovers who are trying to get together despite the difficulties of their situation and all the forces arrayed against them.
4. In this animated film, there are five major characters: Ponyo, Sôsuke, Fujimoto, Lisa and Granmamare. Describe one of these characters and his or her major characteristics. Suggested Response: The following descriptions are the minimum that should be mentioned in a discussion of these characters. Students will come up with additional ideas. Ponyo is willful, perseveres, acts without thinking about the long term consequences, has magical powers as a princess of the sea but loses them when she becomes human, and she is loving. Sôsuke takes responsibility for others; he tells his father, "I'm taking care of everyone dad." Sôsuke wants to be a grown-up. He says several times that he has a job to do and he takes care of his mother and Ponyo. (Sôsuke's father is absent much of the time; many children in that situation or in single parent families respond by becoming more responsible than one would normally expect them to be at their ages.) Fujimoto cares about the ocean and all that lives within it, especially his family. He is a powerful wizard. He is a little strange and he has given up on mankind. Lisa is loving, impetuous, and cares for everyone around her. Like her son, she takes responsibility for others. Granmamare is merciful, loving and wise. She is a goddess with many powers.
For 12 additional Discussion Questions, see the Supplemental Materials for this Guide.
Assignments and Assessments:
Each of the discussion questions can serve as the topic for an essay. Discussion question # 4, if posed as a writing assignment should require the student to describe all five major characters. 1. Write an essay describing the environmental themes in Ponyo and at least one other Miyazaki film, for example, Princess Mononoke.
2. Watch Walt Disney's The Little Mermaid and write a thorough comparison of this highly successful film to Miyazaki's Ponyo. What differences emerge in the comparisons of people, places, and the sacrifices that girls make to find love. Pay special attention to Ursula and suggest which character in Ponyo even comes close to the Disney sea witch. Note which characters, such as Granmamare, are lacking in the Disney film and suggest why this may be so.
3. Write a review of Ponyo. Make sure that you cite evidence to support your views.
For six additional assignment ideas, see the Supplemental Materials for this Guide.
Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more . . . Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.
Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.
Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.
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Ask what the moviemakers are trying to tell us when the movement of little Ponyo to become a human being could cause an imbalance in the natural order. In discussing this you can tell children that the moviemakers were trying to tell us that as we use the sea and accept its bounty we have to care for it and be responsible for it or else we'll destroy it.
BUILDING VOCABULARY: revert, antenna, tsunami, Cambrian age, leeward, and propane.