If you’ve been lucky you may have missed – buried away amongst all the other media hype and internet buzz – the controversy over Disney’s decision to re-record the Ponyo theme tune. I first found out about it over at The Ghibli Blog, and I have to say I was pretty shocked. The original is a cheerful, simple nursery rhyme sung by a child – reminiscent in many ways of the My Neighbour Totoro ending theme – and always makes me smile when I hear it, if for nothing more than it reminds of visiting Japan last year, where it was still being played wherever you went.

It’s hard to imagine a piece of music more suited to the children’s fairy tale that is Ponyo, but apparently Disney reckon they can. And that involves taking the original, speeding it up and drenching it in bad synth riffs, generic beats and – shudder – auto tune vocals. The song has been re-recorded by Disney engineered celebrity fetuses Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas – who also provide the voices for the two child protagonists on the English, and according to most reports do a great job with the script, despite being so recently ejected from the Mouse’s secret talent-birthing lab. Don’t get me wrong – I can understand why Disney have made this move – as an attempt to introduce Ponyo to their legions of pre-pubescent fans – but the manner the have gone about it seems ill-advised, and the result like the punchline to a tired, unfunny joke. Sure, the song needed translating for the dub – but could it have not retained it’s original production style?

You can check out both the versions below and make up your own mind, but coincidentally I was reading Miyazaki’s essay collection Starting Point: 1979-1996yesterday and found this quote – from his production plan for Totoro, written in 1986 – that seems hugely appropriate:

Animation theme songs are frequently used to promote pop idols. This may be trendy, but these singers lack vocal ability, and the current narrow range of song stylings does not capture the hearts of children.

What children long for are songs that they can sing by opening their mouths wide and raising their voices.

Hmm. Interesting. I wonder if Disney COO, Ponyo dub producer and Miyazaki fanatic John Lasseter has read that? I’d hope so, as it’s from a book he wrote the foreword for.