I was disappointed to see that Ponyo (or Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea, to use its full translated Japanese title) was playing at the large Pinnacle theater as opposed to Downtown West like all the previous Miyazaki releases. If it had been released at Downtown West there might have been a good chance of seeing it in Japanese with subtitles. Showing on one screen at the biggest theater in town pretty much guarantees a dubbed release. But it seems unlikely that Disney even released a subtitled version in theaters, and that was probably a smart decision. Outside of the ardent anime fans (and Miyazaki fans in particular), the audience for this movie is really young. More Totoro, less Mononoke.
But I'm a fan of all Miyazaki's work. Even - if not especially - movies like Kiki's Delivery Service, which features no greater conflict than a young girl trying to regain her confidence. But under Miyazaki's masterful direction movies like this absolutely brim with charm and beauty, and even a sense of serenity. When's the last time a movie simply made you feel content? Miyazaki handles tenderness and youthful wonder with such a sure and honest hand that it never gets bogged down in false sentimentality or schmaltz.
So, even with the dub (and it's really not a bad dub) it is a fantastic movie. The story of a young sea creature that wants to become a human is obviously inspired by The Little Mermaid, but it is grounded in a unique world. It's a fairly loose adaptation, filled with all the incredible detail Miyazaki is known for.
The only real action scene takes place about halfway into the movie. The rest is saved for great character moments, adventure, and a pleasant story that takes its time to unfold. Even when the entire world is in peril you never get the sense that anyone is too worried about it. The characters in Miyazaki's lighter films prefer to take things in stride, and that's something I can get behind. It's nice to spend time in a world where even evil isn't entirely committed to getting its way all the time.