In 1992, Hayao Miyazaki wrote and directed this curious animated feature about an Ex World War One flying ace that was magically transformed into a pig. Like most of Myazaki’s body of work, it’s charming, original, downright funny, and evokes a dreamlike sense of poetic fantasy.Porco Rosso is a fantasy film with a single unexplained element. It’s ambiguous how Porco became a pig, but the world seems to have accepted his transformation as a reality. The story begins with Porco Rosso working as a bounty hunter in the Adriatic Sea. He refuses to return to Italy and fly for his country (“I’d rather be a pig than a fascist,” he quips), and he splits his time between rescuing ships from aerial pirates and relaxing alone on the seashore.
Things change when a cocky American pilot is hired by the pirates to take Porco out of the picture. When his aircraft is severely damaged in an attack, Porco finds himself having to sneak into fascist mainland Italy to get his plane repaired. There, Rosso sparks a new friendship with a brilliant young girl with a talent for aerial design, and he is forced to confront the American Pilot, his own lifestyle and the past.
The action sequences in Porco Rosso are reminiscent of Herge’s Tintin comics. There are thrilling and dynamic heroes, droll villains, dashing combat sequences and a tenderness that permeates everything. We become endeared to Porco Rosso watching him save fearless and energetic toddlers from pirates, sitting by the seashore drinking wine, softly and firmly sharing his philosophy, and engaging in one of the most humorous and brutal fistfights ever presented in a cartoon.
Porco Rosso has been recently released to American audiences in the form of a brand new Disney DVD, and like Castle in the Sky, the DVD offers an audio track performed by a proficient cast. Michael Keaton perfectly captures the Humphrey Bogart qualities of Porco Rosso, and Brad Garrett stands out as a brutal but oddly lovable sea pirate.
Anime is a fascinating art form, but at times it gets bogged down with complex technology, enormous machines, and massive destruction. Porco Rosso never falls into these pitfalls. It manages to be visually stunning while remaining intimate and sentimental.The reason Hayao Miyazaki’s films are so successful with American audiences is because he forgoes grandeur in favor of capturing the spirit of childhood whimsy.