For years, the kingpins of American animation have tried to recreate in the States the reverence Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki inspires in his home country, with limited success. With acolyte John Lasseter from Pixar running Disney's animation studios, Miyazaki's never had a more powerful ally in Hollywood. The result is a full-tilt release for his latest, Ponyo, complete with an all-star voice cast.

For years, the kingpins of American animation have tried to recreate in the States the reverence Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki inspires in his home country, with limited success. With acolyte John Lasseter from Pixar running Disney's animation studios, Miyazaki's never had a more powerful ally in Hollywood. The result is a full-tilt release for his latest, Ponyo, complete with an all-star voice cast.

A pre-K take on The Little Mermaid, the film introduces underwater dweller Ponyo (voiced by Noah Cyrus, Miley's little sister), daughter of the union between a human man (voiced by Liam Neeson) and the humanoid embodiment of the sea (Cate Blanchett).

When the curious child, who resembles a swimming Yoshimoto Nara drawing, ventures close to land and is saved from death by five-year-old Sosuke (Frankie Jonas), she conjures unexpected powers and wills herself a human form to stay by his side.

The cast brings more than name recognition, particularly Neeson and Tina Fey as Sosuke's mother. The unabashed enthusiasm Cyrus brings to her lines kindles the same warmth as Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro did.

Like that film, this one pays respect to its very young protagonists by working on their level, which might not fly with all Westerners. The animation is dense, flowing, often arrestingly gorgeous - something fans of all ages can appreciate - and the tale's innocence should charm adults. But kids with a few years of grade school may find it too elementary.