A Pig, A Plane, and a Dream: Porco Rosso

Copyright © 1992 by Studio Ghibli and Walt Disney Motion Pictures
Copyright © 1992 by Studio Ghibli

“I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.”

Thanks again to JesuOtaku’s month-long series of reviews of Studio Ghibli films, I was introduced to a variety of films, some of which I’d heard about—like Kiki’s Delivery Service—and some I hadn’t, like Porco Rosso.

The story is set in the Mediterranean during the 1930s, when fascism is on the rise in Italy. A WWI ace pilot nicknamed “The Crimson Pig” is making his trade as a bounty hunter, taking down air pirates over the ocean for a price. Despite the curse that gave him the head of a pig, Porco remains the finest flier in the skies. However, when a cocky American pilot named Curtis challenges Porco’s air supremacy, the pig must evade both air pirates and the Italian Air Force while getting his plane rebuilt. He makes the acquaintance of a spirited young woman named Fio, who becomes his mechanic and exuberant sidekick. Together, they take on both Curtis and the pirates, trying to restore Porco’s honor and pay off his debt for all the airplane repairs.

While this was released in the early Nineties, the English dub cast for this film was nothing short of amazing. Besides having a solid script with more believable dialogue, Michael Keaton does very well as the voice of Porco, delivering a solid deadpan with the occasional big laugh or cocky boast that matches the pilot’s facial expressions. Cary Elwes also proves to be a surprise performance, playing up a thick American accent as Curtis. I pegged Brad Garrett’s voice right away when I heard the leader of a particular pirate gang speak, and I love the fact that M*A*S*H* veteran David Odgen Stiers has a solid speaking role, too. The voice actor for Fio does a fine job as well, and by comparison to Phil Hartman’s voice of a talking cat in Kiki’s Delivery Service, she doesn’t have to fill up dead air with constant pointless dialogue. When she needs to say something, it’s worth it and she balances well with the deadpan delivery of Keaton.

As per any film by Hayao Miyazaki, the animation is positively gorgeous. We get to see beautiful static shots of villas and streets in Milan, along with wonderfully choreographed dogfights in the air and well-rendered shots of planes soaring over the deep blue waters. While Porco Rosso is still very much in the slice-of-life genre that’s common in Miyazaki’s body of work, it’s also more action-oriented and the animation brings out the most of it with great angles and perspective shifts.

The film also deserves credit for how much detail is explored. We get elaborate blueprints for Porco’s plane, along with close-up shots and recreations of real-life models like the Curtiss R3C (appropriately flown by the antagonist Curtis himself). Miyazaki also adds the right details to suggest the shift toward a fascist government in Italy, complete with Mussolini-style hats and era-appropriate patriotic banners.

There’s also the matter of having our main character be a pig flying a plane. While this film is obviously a labor of love for Miyazaki the aviation enthusiast, the pig motif also works here as a symbol of basic greed. Porco himself tells his ex-comrade from the Italian Air Force, “I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.” He’d rather fly for money than for a ruthless regime and doesn’t mind being a pig, be it figurative or literal. But the plot forces Porco to choose between staying neutral and standing up for others like Fio and Gina. In a way, it’s a lot like Miyazaki’s take on Casablanca, with a cool-headed nightclub owner being swapped out for a pig-headed fighter pilot.

I enjoyed every moment of Porco Rosso, not only for its beautiful detail and aerial animation, but for its engaging story, good voice acting, and a very memorable main character.

The English dub for Porco Rosso is available through Disney Movies.

Bibliography: Porco Rosso. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Produced by Toshio Suzuki. Written by Hayao Miyazaki. Based on the manga by Hayao Miyazaki. Perf. Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes, Susan Egan, Brad Garrett, David Ogden Stiers, and Kimberly Williams-Paisley. Toho (Japan); Madman Entertainment (Australia); Walt Disney Pictures (US). US release date: July 18, 1992.

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