OUT NOW! Hayao “the Japanese Walt Disney” Miyazaki knows how to tickle the inner child out of anyone.

While Pixar is scoring big with technical perfection and institutionalized innovation, the “Japanese Walt Disney” Miyazaki (Spirited Away) sneaks in another one of his heartfelt handmade masterpieces.

In his take on the old mermaid tale, the ocean is alive with mythical creatures and wonder. Ponyo is no Ariel but a goldfish, and the boy for whose sake she turns human is only five years old, but Miyazaki knows how to tickle the inner child out of anyone. Next to all the fantastic wizardry and playful detail, the eco-friendly message comes through plain and clear – with additional urgency provided by recent events in the Gulf of Mexico.

In fact, Miyazaki’s themes and underlying principles – his consistent environmentalism and pacifism, his subtle feminism, Eastern spirituality and all-embracing philantropy (he eschews simplistic villains in favor of complex characters with emotional learning curves) – have always been progressive and praiseworthy, while never hampering the magic. This is the stuff I’d want my kids to grow up on.

PONYO | Directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Japan 2008) with Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett (voices). Opens in Berlin cinemas on September 16.