Take a Drink: whenever a plane does a loop.
Take a Drink: whenever Porco smokes or drinks.
Take a Drink: whenever Curtis expresses an outlandish ambition.
Do a Shot: for the tragic flashback, obviously.
Finish Your Drink: when the champion of the Adriatic gets his prize.
By: Sarah Shachat (Two Beers) –
Honestly, the weirdest thing about Porco Rosso is that Cary Elwes voices a Texan. Our hero Porco: sure he happens to be a pig, but his gruff chauvinism, and his wounded, vulnerably human heart underneath, is entirely realistic. Porco Russo owes a lot to Hollywood adventures of the 40s, to its romantic fatalism, to a Hero With A Code who’ll slum with thieves before serving hypocrites. Or, as Porco himself puts it, “I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.” The victim of a mysterious curse, this pilot pig continues to whirl above the Adriatic, rescuing cruise ships in the interwar period from aerial pirates – doing it for the money in the same way Rick Blaine operates his Café American for profit.
Complications arise, as they usually do, when a cocky American flyboy intervenes on behalf of the fed-up pirates. Pretty soon it’s not just the annoyingly smug Curtis, but the Italian secret police and time itself that has Porco’s number. Backing his corner is Fio, a punk kid/genius flight engineer/girl who redesigns Porco’s plane sorta-kinda by will alone. How Porco will extricate himself from all of these annoyances, and maybe undo his porcine appearance, is the focus of the film’s plot. But fantasy quests and machine guns aside, this is still Studio Ghibli. The animation is gorgeous. The light flickering in those big anime eyes convey a wonder for life and everything in it that is absolutely infectious. The only question is: is Porco immune?
Most of the humor and feeling in the film comes from Porco himself, as it should. It’s great fun. But Porco Rosso is a movie you can absolutely get lost inside. When you’re watching anything drawn by Miyazaki, it always looks about as warm and inviting as a Mediterranean island. So the setting feels quite natural for the art style. The water and air, the clouds and the glistening white walls of Gina’s place: they are all gorgeous. The sea planes shine in every respect, with enough components from classic aircraft to amuse buffs and enough smushing of those components for them to feel original and fantastic. The aerial combat and the action are well choreographed, balancing a sense of the motion of the planes for shots of the utter beauty of them set in the sky.
Given the technology, you could see an old Hollywood director like Hawks or Curtiz making a version of Porco Rosso. The damaged but deadly protagonist, a dame who can hang with him, an inviting den of distinctive characters, comedy based on European ethnic groups: many classic Hollywood elements are here. But the movie has something more. What separates this film is Miyazaki’s comfort with telling a character’s story first, constructing logical causality second. We spend time with Porco sipping red wine, or chain smoking late into the night, with nothing but clear water lapping up on a beach. Miyazaki is unafraid of pauses, and that gives the movie a confidence and sense of depth it’s sometimes hard for live action films to achieve.
There’s also the fact the humanism which colors everything Miyazaki does is fully half feminism. It’s unclear whether or not Fio’s faith in Porco actually rehumanizes him – but we sense that it absolutely could. She and Gina basically control the seaplane pirate gangs through their own strength of character, and conquer Porco and Curtis more completely than the Italian air force could ever subdue the Adriatic. Miyazaki’s never overt, never pushes Strong Female Characters, but the world of this film is refreshing for more than one reason.
The English voice dub, it must be said, is a little uneven. It feels like it takes Michael Keaton about thirty minutes or so to settle into the character. Disney kids will recognize game dame Gina as Susan Egan, who also wiped the floor with menfolk in Hercules as Megara. But the dub’s version of the script, at least, is more suggestive of her and Porco’s feelings for each other than addressing them head-on. It’s a good call. The movie isn’t about them as a couple, and there’s enough generic lift in the picture for us to understand what’s between them without having it spelled out. But unfortunately as a result, Gina herself is a little bit of a cypher. Fio and even the pirate gangs feel slightly more fleshed out. There’s little bits of drag and unevenness like that throughout the movie, momentum that gets dropped or things the film invested in which aren’t ever paid off. But the brightness of the action and the animation more than make up for it.
Porco Rosso is an open-hearted adventure yarn with all the polish and gumption of classic Hollywood pictures, and also way cooler planes. Insert your own joke about pigs flying, but enjoy it all the same.