Plot: Porco Rosso is an ace pilot who patrols the skies and is well known, mostly for his heroics, but also for his unusual look. A strange spell caused a drastic shift in his facial appearance, as he now he has the face of a pig, hence his moniker. These days, Porco works as a bounty hunter and has frequent conflict with the local sky pirates. After he foiled their nefarious plans one too many times, the pirates decided to call in backup and hire a rival ace to take him out. That rival is Curtis, an American pilot who is keen to duel, only to find Porco uninterested in such battles. But Curtis pursues Porco, causing immense damage to his plane in the process. He manages to escape, then gets some unexpected help from a young engineer named Flo, who patches his plane up and insists on joining the crew. When it becomes clear that Curtis will not leave him alone, Porco agrees to a one on one duel, but with the stakes this high, can the worn down ace pull out one last victorious run?
Entertainment Value: I think Porco Rosso is an interesting part of the Studio Ghibli roster, as it takes such a simple, grounded approach and makes it work. This movie doesn’t have the epic, world bending fantasy of some of the Ghibli films, but has a more personal, smaller scale texture. While the scope of the narrative might not be immense, it does offer depth however, as Porco is an interesting character and his experiences make sure things are never too simple. Believe or not, having the face of the pig is one of the least interesting parts of Porco’s life, as he has a dark, but rich past that propels his narrative here. This might be a cynical pilot, but it is clear he seeks some kind of redemption, despite following what he believed were the right paths in life. But he is just the main character in Porco Rosso and while not quite as well fleshed out, Flo, Gina, and Curtis have interesting elements as well. This is Porco’s story without question, but it is nice to have some supporting characters that add to the narrative and help keep things fresh. Some might not like the lack of wild, surreal fantasy elements, but to me, Porco Rosso is an important piece of Studio Ghibili’s legacy.
For this review, I rewatched the movie with the original Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles, then sampled some of the English track. I know fans are often adamant against dubbed tracks, but in truth, the one for Porco Rosso is quite terrific. I almost always opt for the original language tracks myself, but the English voice work for this movie is great. Michael Keaton plays the lead, Cary Elwes is a capable villain, and the supporting cast includes Susan Egan, David Ogden Stiers, Brad Garrett, and voice over regulars like Tom Kenny and of course, the great Frank Welker. Keaton is excellent and really conveys the worn down pilot, while Elwes provides a terrific foil that is fun to root against. I really liked this English track and if you’re purist, you can choose this without guilt, as Hayao Miyazaki has said countless times that he prefers his movies to watched in the native tongue of the viewers. The original soundtrack is quite good too, but this is one of the better dubbed options I’ve heard. The animation here is top notch as well, with beautiful hand drawn visuals that really spark the imagination. I love the design of Porco Rosso, he is such a cool character and his overall look backs that up, like an animated Bogart almost. Perhaps not as stylish and dazzling as some Ghibli films, but a great looking movie, nonetheless.