Reviewby Carlo Santos, Apr 20th 2005
In World War II Italy, seaplane pirates roam all across the Adriatic Sea, but only one name strikes fear into their hearts: Porco Rosso, the bounty-hunting ace pilot! Having been transformed into a pig by a magic spell, Porco's appearance is just as striking as his trademark red plane. When the pirates hire cocky American pilot Donald Curtis to take out Porco, a rivalry develops, and not just in the air. Curtis has taken an interest in Gina, a restaurant owner and Porco's old flame, so now they're fighting for both love and honor. Then Fio, the granddaughter of Porco's old mechanic friend, helps to upgrade his plane, which adds even more girl trouble to his life. If that's not enough, he's also on the run from the Italian Air Force, who want to arrest him as a traitor—if they could ever catch up with him. Porco's got to settle his score with Curtis, but how will he settle matters with everyone else?
In case you've missed it on every other anime trivia website: Hayao Miyazaki loves flight. He loves it so much that all his movies contain at least one flying scene, whether by natural causes, aircraft, or magic. Nowhere does he indulge himself more than in Porco Rosso, his tribute to the heroic age of aviation when airplanes were personal statements and pilots were celebrities. With warm landscapes, colorful characters, and a fantastic array of dogfights and flight scenes, this is one movie where you'll miss all the good parts if you blink. While it's a little low on the fairytale elements that are Miyazaki's trademark, the romantic undercurrents and mature themes are a pleasant surprise.
If Porco Rosso could be compared to one other movie, it wouldn't be a Studio Ghibli film, or even an anime, but the 1942 classic Casablanca. The two movies share several key elements: a jaded, world-weary male lead; a talented but egotistical rival; a charismatic woman who comes between the two; and of course, a World War II setting. The drama doesn't stop there: Gina's heart has been broken too many times by pilots, and Porco strongly resents this world that's out to get him. Even the explanation of how he became a pig, which ought to be a whimsical tale, is surrounded by grave circumstances. Yes, this is still a Miyazaki movie, but no, it's not really aimed at kids. Children can still enjoy the surface elements, like the pirates and the aerial battles, but the layers of story and backstory (often aided by flashbacks) will resonate best with older viewers.
Fans of super-happy-fun-time Ghibli needn't fret, however, as there are plenty of uplifting moments too. Fio (who's a dead ringer for earlier Miyazaki heroines like Clarisse and Nausicaä) brings the vitality of youth to the cast, and her friendship with Porco takes the edge off his gruff nature. The comically inept pirates also lighten things up by completely bungling everything they do. The only time Porco's fights get serious is when he faces Curtis, and even then, their final duel ends in slow-motion slapstick. In the battle between drama and humor, humor eventually wins, although the seriousness beneath it gives the story more emotional weight. Plot-wise, it doesn't really extend to the bounds of Miyazaki's epics, and its quasi-historical setting may not appeal to those who prefer fantasy worlds. That doesn't stop the movie from being very good at what it is: a mature love story with a whole lot of cool airplanes and flying scenes.
Those flying scenes, of course, are Studio Ghibli's chance to show off its animation prowess. Tricky camera angles and aerial maneuvers come out splendidly as the animation staff steps up to the challenge—don't look for any speedlines or cheap shortcuts here. True to Miyazaki's laid-back directing style, even the most intense dogfights are leisurely, but the richly colored Mediterranean backgrounds make them some of the prettiest dogfights you'll ever watch. Keep an eye out too for the clouds and water effects, which are often very difficult to animate. The character designs aren't quite as thrilling: most of them are standard Miyazaki types, except for Porco, who is probably the director's alter ego (since he often likes to draw himself as a pig). Digital touch-up has done wonders for the picture quality, as this 1992 movie looks at least five years younger.
Composer Joe Hisaishi does a deft job of adjusting his musical style to fit the story. Rather than going with a typical orchestral score, his use of pseudo-Italian folk melodies and marches emphasizes the movie's exotic setting. Still, Hisaishi is at his best when spinning sentimental tunes, and when his own style meets with that of old Europe, the result is a soundtrack that's both nostalgic and emotionally impacting. The feeling of days gone by is further enhanced by the cabaret song that Gina sings at the restaurant ("Le Temps des Cerises") and the wistful ending song.
Once again, Disney brings in a celebrity lineup for the English dub, and this time Michael Keaton takes the lead as Porco. Hiring a middle-aged man to play a middle-aged pig is a pretty safe bet, and Keaton's interpretation captures the gruff, cynical attitude of Porco while still being endearing. Cary Elwes—who also plays Baron in The Cat Returns—steps in as Donald Curtis, and he might be the only voice actor in anime who's ever done a believable Southern accent. (All those countryfolk in the English version of Peacemaker Kurogane could probably take a lesson from him.) Among the female characters, Susan Egan's rendition of Gina is remarkably faithful to her Japanese counterpart, but Kimberly Williams' Fio tries a little too hard to be an energetic teenage girl. The translators, meanwhile, deserve a round of applause for finally getting the "real" subtitles on the DVD and not the "dubtitles" that have plagued some of Disney's other Ghibli releases. Of course, there are enough extras on the disc to please most Miyazakiholics: complete storyboards, trailers, a short interview with producer Toshio Suzuki, and interviews with the dub cast.
Hayao Miyazaki loves flight, and after seeing this movie, you might develop a love affair with the sky as well. There's no shortage of breathtaking aviation scenes in Porco Rosso, and the multi-layered characters and story add plenty of substance to the eye candy. It may not have the epic quality of Nausicaä or Mononoke, or the sheer whimsy of Totoro and Kiki, but for a jaunty account of the days when pilots were celebrities, this is definitely worth the time and money. Whether you're a fan of Miyazaki, a fan of airplanes, or a fan of good animation, make sure to check out Porco Rosso.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A+
Art : A
Music : A-
+ A stirring tale of love and pilots, with animation that meets the challenges of flight.
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