Porco Rosso is a Japanese animated fantasy-adventure story that was released in Japan in 1992. It was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, who is also well-known for Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2001).
Warning: Below is my full review with spoilers.
The Tailspin Connection
Porco Rosso looks like the kind of movie (on the outside) that I would not normally invest my time in. I’m not really a fan of cute or lighthearted stories. But, after watching a few minutes of this one, it brought me back to my late childhood; a time when just getting into anime.
Back in the early 90s, I watched a show that was part of the Disney Afternoon TV block, it was called Talespin.
I loved that show and the original Ducktales too. I am not sure how I got hooked on them, it is kind of odd because I was or have never been a Disney Cartoon fan. As I hinted above, I am drawn more to gritty and dark-themed shows. Cartoons like Inhumanoids, Visionaries, GI JOE, Transformers, Thundar the Barbarian, StarBlazers, and Pirates of Dark Water filled my time before Japanese Anime.
That all being said, there was something about Talespin. As a fiction writer, I wager that maybe it was the fun worldbuilding of Talespin that I enjoyed. A seemly post-World War world filled with air pirates and secret headquarters on island coves. That is the environment I was instantly welcomed to when I turned on Porco Rosso. It felt comfortably familiar, and guess what? I Googled Talespin and I found out that the show and Porco Rosso are creatively intertwined.
The people who created Talespin were inspired by Hayao Miyazaki‘s manga version of Porco Rosso and when Porco Rosso was released two years after Talespin, they felt the movie took cues from the Disney tv show.
Wow. I was honestly surprised that my feelings were more than just that. I thought Talespin and Porco Rosso seemed very similar. Now I know the reasons why they are. And…say it with me… “Knowing is half the battle!”
The Story of Porco Rosso (With Spoilers)
Porco Rosso (Italian for “red pig” or “red pork”) is the story of a man who is cursed to look like a pig. He is a former Italian air force ace pilot. He now lives the bounty hunter/mercenary life. Hiding (or maybe not, maybe just chilling) on a beautiful island cove. He is called to aid a boat that is being attacked by air pirates. As he rushes off to help them, we, as the viewer, start to realize something else is very familiar about Porco. It’s his voice. It’s…it’s Batman! Yes, Michael Keaton provides some epic voice acting here and he really sells the character’s attitude.
As the movie progresses, we meet characters from Porco’s past as they are friends with him today. A former pilot buddy, a woman he knew before the curse, and even an old mechanic shop owner. We also see how although Porco may be a pig, he is a popular one. At times he is treated like a local celebrity in his country. The women seem to love him, which made me wonder if the writers intended to make some sort of statement there. (Yeah, they probably did, right?)
Porco meets an American hotshot pilot, and they end up fighting since the American is helping the pirates. During their first encounter, Porco’s plane goes down and people think he’s dead.
At this moment, the story becomes a tale of redemption. Porco seeks to get himself back in the air. He goes to his mechanic friend, Piccolo, to get back into the fight. This is where he meets the mechanic’s new engineer, his granddaughter, Fio. She is young, cute, spunky, and incredibly skilled. Porco, being the pig that he is, doesn’t want the help of a girl. But he soon learns that it’s women who are going to fix him and his life, starting with rebuilding and upgrading his plane.
They say it takes a village, well, in this movie, it takes an army of women, all relatives of Piccolo. Porco sits back like a lazy pig while they work hard and fast. When done, his plane is a rare beauty with a new engine. He is ready to go back home and confront the man who shot him down.
But during the trip home, with his new engineer buddy Fio, we learn that Porco has more problems than money, pirates, and fascists. He also has the Italian air force setting up ambushes to get him when he gets home.
It’s a mess for Porco, but with the help of Fio, a solution is developed in the form of a one-on-one dogfight. The winner gets the money or the girl. Porco seems unbeatable, but so does the American. After an exciting and fun air battle, it comes down to a draw. But the battle does not stop there.
Just like those action movies of the 80s and 90s, it develops or degrades into a good old fashion bare-knuckle fistfight. Pig vs. American. I had to laugh. They always seem to have the Brits or Americans (whoever is written to be the “cultured one”) fight in that vintage fisticuffs style.
By the end, the victor is crowned. Porco is triumphant!
Fio narrates an apparently happy ending as Porco leads the air force away, and she takes the role of president of her grandfather’s company.
Overall, the animation itself is very clean and bright. The dubbing is excellent. It was a very enjoyable 94 minutes that I am glad I spent. My review may spoil the movie, but it does not include all the fine and fun details of Porco Rosso. It’s also important to note that it’s worth your time regardless of whether you watched or enjoyed Talespin. Give a pig a chance and see why it is one of our top anime movies of the 90s. 😊
Grade: A (or 4.75 Stars)