This Pig's Gotta Fly
Believe it or not, my latest favorite movie hero just happens to be a flying pig. I’m not kidding. He’s the protagonist of Porco Rosso, a very special animated film from Hayao Miyazaki, who also created Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. Although Miyazaki usually gives us films for children that adults will also enjoy, Porco Rosso breaks this tradition and is designed primarily for grown-ups.
“A pig’s gotta fly,” serves as Porco’s (voiced by Michael Keaton) mantra. A mysterious spell has changed this valiant World War I pilot’s face into that of a pig. Fortunately, no spell can interfere with Porco’s amazing aerial skill. Now a bounty hunter, he becomes the target of greedy pirates who hire Curtis, an American ace (voiced by Cary Elwes) to destroy him. To complicate matters, both Porco and Curtis fall for Gina, a nightclub singer (voiced by Susan Egan) who charms every man she meets, even those despicable pirates.
When Porco’s crashed plane seems beyond repair, a teenage girl comes to the rescue. Fio (voiced by Kimberly Williams) knows practically everything about aeronautical engineering. After recruiting her women friends and relatives to help rebuild the fallen aircraft, Fio insists on going with Porco to complete his mission.
Why is Porco so appealing? After all, he has the face of a pig and his body sports a middle-aged spread. Still, his cynicism and self-deprecating humor are irresistible to me, and when he dons his trenchcoat with its turned-up collar, his matching fedora and his dark glasses, I can’t help thinking about Humphrey Bogart at his best. Keaton (White Noise) adds to Porco’s charm by adopting Bogart’s tough yet tender vocal inflections.
With incredible attention to detail, Miyazaki creates a fascinating Porco Rosso world. From the tranquil cove where Porco hides out to his exciting aerial maneuvers in the wild blue yonder, the film’s unique artistry draws viewers in and leaves them wanting more. Miyazaki’s cinematic landscapes are vibrant with color and movement. His unusual characters come in all shapes and sizes; they can be gorgeous like Gina, terrifying like the pirate boss (voiced by Brad Garrett) when he’s angry, comical like the self-absorbed Curtis or heroic like Porco and Fio -- but they’re never boring. No wonder Miyazaki has been hailed as an “animation magician.”
Lovely music and a poignant, humorous story about courage add to the enchantment of Porco Rosso. I particularly enjoyed Gina’s haunting French love songs as well as the music during some flight sequences, which mesmerized me with its hypnotic beauty.
After watching Porco Rosso, it’s a treat to view the DVD bonus materials, especially “Behind the Microphone with Voice Talent.” In this enlightening featurette, Michael Keaton, Brad Garrett, Kimberly Williams, Susan Egan, Cary Elwes and David Ogden Stiers talk about how they matched their voices to the film’s animated characters and why they enjoyed the experience so much. Also included as bonus items are complete storyboards of Porco Rosso, the original Japanese theatrical trailer, and an interview with producer Toshio Suzuki.
No doubt about it. Porco Rosso is a must-see for Miyazaki fans -- and for any adult who enjoys exceptional movies.
(Released by Walt Disney Home Entertainment and Studio Ghibli; rated “PG” for violence and some mild language. Bonus materials not rated.)