Lasseter Gives Miyazaki’s Ponyo a Push

Pixar’s John Lasseter is joining producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy in preparing the U.S. theatrical release of Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, the latest animated opus from Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki. According to Daily Variety, the trio aims to increase the number of movie screens Ponyo will open on in the states, where foreign animated fare usually gets very limited arthouse runs. Disney plans to release the film in North America this summer.

The English-language version of Ponyo will feature the voices of Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin and Cloris Leachman. The story centers on a five-year-old boy’s friendship with a ‘girl-fish’ who wants to be human and ventures out of her underwater world. The plot echoes elements from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid fairy tale, as well as traditional Japanese folklore. The movie debuted in Japan on July 19 and opened to roughly $17 million on its way to $165 million, making it Japan’s biggest success of 2008.

Spirited Away holds the record for U.S. box office performance for a Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli production. The pic opened in 2002 and earned $10.1 million on 714 screens. Lasseter, Marshall and Kennedy hope Ponyo can top that with proper handing.

Marshall and Kennedy last year brought Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical animated feature Persepolis to U.S. The Duo will receive the VES Lifetime Achievement Award this year for a body of work that includes Raiders of the Lost Ark and the three Indiana Jones sequels.