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Porco Rosso (2-Disc Set) DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Japanese Theatrical Release: July 18, 1992 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

English Voice Cast: Michael Keaton (Porco Rosso), Cary Elwes (Donald Curtis), Kimberly Williams (Fio), Susan Egan (Madame Gina), David Ogden Stiers (Grandpa Piccolo), Brad Garrett (Boss)

Japanese Voice Cast: Shûichirô Moriyama (Porco Rosso), Akio Ôtsuka (Donald Curtis), Akemi Okamura (Fio), Tokiko Kato (Madame Gina), Sanshi Katsura (Grandpa Piccolo), Hiroko Seki (Boss)

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Surround (Japanese, English, French)
Subtitles: English, English captions; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: February 22, 2005
Two single-sided discs (DVD-9 & DVD-5); THX-Certified with Optimizer Tests
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99

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Review by Lindsay Mayer

Porco Rosso, another "canon" classic from Studio Ghibli, somewhat bucks the trend of the majority of director Hayao Miyazaki's other films, in that it feature a male character as the main protagonist. Miyazaki is well-known for his respect of women, though "feminist" probably wouldn't describe it correctly. In Porco, however, the film focuses on a Humphrey Bogart-like seaplane pilot who, although afflicted with a curious porcine curse, is nevertheless the central character. Granted, there are many featured female characters, and they all have great influence on the mustachioed pig, but they're never exactly spotlighted, nor do they ever fully share the protagonist role à la Princess Mononoke.

But I digress. It just seemed an interesting facet of the film, but it did not hinder it in any way! I sat down to this knowing very little about it; nothing of the plot, nothing of the characters - only that it had something to do with a pilot who was cursed to look like a pig. And it had a lot to do with planes. Being less-than-enthusiastic about "boy toy"-type machinery, I had my reservations. I found, to my huge relief, that they were unwarranted.

Though a synopsis of Porco Rosso may be somewhat off-putting, the film has more charm, pathos, and character-driven story than I had ever ventured to think. At once, it seems like a classic live-action Hollywood film of the '30s and '40s - as well as a grand idea for a Disney animated film - had they ever dared to tackle such material. Set in the post-World War I era of the 1920's, the film tells the story of Porco Rosso - the Crimson Pig - a skilled seaplane pilot, war veteran, and overall scoundrel. Mysteriously cursed to assume a face of a pig, the man is flagged as a rebel for leaving the Italian army due to his disgust at the rise of fascism. Now working as a bounty hunter - a gun-for-hire that intercepts air pirates that stalk the seas - the man lives a dangerous, but apparently leisurely life. He also seems to have a darker past, judging by his cynical nature and his relationship with the club owner Madame Gina.

In his hidden island lagoon, Porco remains leisurely isolated from the outside world. Donald Curtis sizes up 'the pig' upon introduction.

Inevitably, his line of work creates many enemies, and one day a large group of united air pirates - sponsored by the mob and aided by the commissioned American ace pilot Donald Curtis - make a mass threat on the bounty hunter's life. Bemused, but too tired to put up with the challenge, Porco decides to fly his ailing plane to Milan, Italy to escape. On the way, Porco encounters Curtis, and unwilling to fight, Porco tries and fails to shake Curtis. His plane in ruin, Porco eventually manages to make it to Milan, where he seeks out his trusted friend Piccolo, a skilled old Italian mechanic, to restore his devastated plane. To Porco's chagrin, the mechanic's 17-year-old granddaughter Fio takes charge of designing and rebuilding the plane. Though her grandfather knows and trusts her amazing skills, Porco is reluctant. Nevertheless, he gives her a chance, and soon dozens of female relatives - their men missing due to the war or the bad economy - arrive to collaborate on the project. Being slightly misogynistic, Porco doesn't like the idea of an all-female crew working on his plane, but he eventually finds himself showing a grudging respect for Fio's talents.

When the Italian Air Force show up in an attempt to capture Porco, the pig must make a hasty retreat with his barely-finished and untried plane. Through sheer stubborn will, Fio insists to come along, even knowing the potential dangers that someone like Porco could face. Making a successful escape, the two head back to his current home of a secluded island lagoon - only to be ambushed by the very same pirates that threatened Porco originally. The chances for Porco and his plane seem nil, but through Fio's cleverness and quick thinking, the two manage to avoid certain fate. Instead, the pirates' unctuous collaborator Curtis agrees to a set one-on-one dogfight, testing each pilots' skills and ruthlessness. Curtis demands Fio for a bride if he wins, and Porco's (or rather, Fio's) request is for Curtis to pay off all of Porco's debt - including the large bill for his plane's restoration.

The night before the big match is a very nice, quiet character-driven sequence. The ever-optimistic Fio, watching Porco inspect his ammunition, makes a hesitant attempt at some potentially sore material. Porco ends up telling her about his near-death experience in World War I, during an especially vicious dogfight with enemy planes. Looking past his gruff cynicism, Fio tries to think of ways to alleviate his hard shell, or at least how to lift the curse set on him. Of course, the very next day will prove to be Porco's greatest challenge - does he have the will, and the talent, to save his new young friend from the arrogant American Curtis?

Though reluctant, Porco lets the young engineer Fio reconstruct his plane. Even the eldest women of the Piccolo clan eagerly help to rebuild Porco's seaplane.

Miyazaki manages to balance two seemingly polar opposites in the telling of this tale. One being the character-driven drama; another, the abundant spectacular aerial action. I had feared that the film would have been mostly the latter - mindless mechanical action scenes. It turned out to be quite an engaging story, with believable, complex characters, a fun, if dramatically-inclined, plot, and seaplane action that was surprisingly quite exciting throughout the whole film.

I also thought that the English voice actors were incredible. Thus far Disney has done very good dubbing of the Studio Ghibli films they've released, but for some reason Porco Rosso was especially good. The dialogue - though a bit more slightly altered from the original Japanese script - was sharply written and intelligent. Micheal Keaton voices the pig himself, and sounded convincingly world-weary and cynical - Keaton putting on a deeper register for the character. Susan Egan, who has already voiced the character of Lin in Spirited Away (as well as Megara in Hercules for Disney), now voices Madame Gina, the tender owner of the Adriano, who has suffered several heartbreaks and still yearns for Porco's affection. Kimberly Williams puts in an ebullient performance as Fio, the spunky secondary and main female character of the film. While David Ogden Stiers shows off his vocal chameleon skills voicing Fio's grandfather - the man sounded genuinely Italian, and I was yet again surprised to see his name in the credits afterward. Cary Elwes voices the slick American antagonist Curtis, turning in a wonderfully "hateable" performance. On the "additional voices" front, Brad Garrett voices a goon yet again as "Boss" - the leader of the Manma Aiutto air pirates. Though the Miyazaki dubs seem to have a trend of recurring voice actors in different films, the performances are often so well done that it doesn't quite matter that much!

Fio watches anxiously as Porco dukes it out with Curtis in the film's climactic dogfight. Porco thanks Fio for staving off the air pirate ambush.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like "Wave 1" of the Miyazaki titles in 2003, Porco is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Though it's not noticeable on most TV monitors, playback on DVD-ROM (with no overscan) shows a very slight "windowboxing" on all sides of the picture, like with most, if not all, of the Region 1 Studio Ghibli DVDs. The quality of the picture itself is excellent - no visible grain or "fuzziness" was apparent. With a film that concentrates on dazzling "sky shots" and the geometric designs of seaplanes, this was a definite plus. Due to the film's predominant setting of diurnal Mediterranean locales, one would be worried that the overall look would be too bright or "washed out" - which is far from the case. Contrast and color presentation is excellent - you get the romantic feel of the film's sunny, colorful setting without ever becoming overwhelmed by possible "glaring" whites or a too-bright palette.

Audio is offered as Dolby Surround tracks of English and French dubs, as well as the original Japanese track. The subtitles offer both the tweaked, "interpreted" English of the American dub, and the literal English script, directly translated from the original Japanese. All three of these audio tracks sound crisp and well-mixed, and the English dub is especially commendable for the excellent vocal nuances of its ADR cast.

Michael Keaton is way overdressed for his "Behind the Microphone" interview. Susan Egan is quite literally, "Behind the Microphone" as she records the lines for Madame Gina. Producer Toshio Suzuki speaks briefly in an interview.

BONUS MATERIALS

When it comes to extra features, Porco Rosso may be the lightest release in this 3-title wave. Like the other two, "Behind the Microphone," a 7-minute featurette, shows us the challenges of the ADR (audio dialogue replacement) process, as well as the reflections of the English voice cast. Porco's voicework is incredibly well-performed, and this is in no small part due to the talent that Disney obtained for this film. All of those involved, whether producers or the actual cast, seemed to have enjoyed the challenge. They also expressed their respect for such a sophisticated script, and praise Miyazaki's work once again. Though it has a "promotional" feel to it (almost like something that one would see on the Disney Channel's "Movie Surfers" interstitials), it's an appreciated and insightful extra nevertheless.

Unlike the long and intriguing "Birth of Studio Ghibli" or "The Making of The Cat Returns" on Nausicaä's and Cat's DVDs, respectively, Porco only features a paltry 3-minute interview with Ghibli director Toshio Suzuki. He reflects on the "mature" qualities of Porco, and attempts to define Hayao Miyazaki as a person, as well as his influence on the film. It's slightly interesting, but it's just so tragically short! It doesn't really do much to "beef up" the overall features of this release.

The last extra on the first disc is an 8-minute "play all" of original Japanese trailers. Featuring 2 "special trailers," one theatrical trailer, and a promotional reel, the clips actually reflect the film's sophistication further, as the ad campaign is appropriately demure and abstract. It's a promotional method that is rarely seen in the U.S. - if it still exists at all. Though they may be of little interest to most, I found their level of "high art" quite satisfying.

The second disc's only feature is the whole feature in storyboard form. Though this will probably be even less-watched than the original trailers, it still shows off the marvelous work that is put into the pre-production of Ghibli's animated films. In addition to personally "tweaking" the animators' work his films' shots and sequences, Miyazaki also produces most of the storyboard art himself. Though they are only simple line drawings, they carry they have a wonderful style on their own level. Far from stick figures, the tiniest actions or camera moves are obsessively documented - not unlike a manga graphic novel. The storyboards are available to watch in either English or Japanese, with literal English subtitles. Though this storyboards-only arrangement on the second disc is a bit awkward, it's at least consistent, since all of the Disney-released Ghibli DVDs have displayed the same arrangement.

Title screen from a Japanese "Porco Rosso" trailer. A still from Disc 2's storyboard version of the film. The crimson pig enjoys a delicious bowl of spaghetti. Don't mess around with the guy in shades, oh no!

MENUS and PACKAGING

The menus on this DVD are 16x9 enhanced, animated screens. The Main Menu of Porco features the valiant pig as he flies through the clouds, which eventually give way to show the menu's listing. The "transition" animation is similar - Porco's plane ducking out of sight as clouds reveal the new menu. It's short enough to be bearable if you're browsing quickly through the disc's various indexes. The Bonus Features menu, as well as Disc 2's menu, feature a sky shot, with an odd "margin" with an encircled face of Porco to the left. Though the other menus feature still shots, all have accompanying orchestral music to them - which of course, as soft a tune as it is, can get a bit tedious if you're menu-hopping much.

The double-disc set is housed in a standard black dual Amaray keepcase, and unlike the last Miyazaki wave, each of these titles also feature a slick cardboard slipcover that's identical to the keepcase cover art. A dual-sided insert the film's chapters on the front, advertising the entire "Ghibli collection" on the back. A fold-out booklet features ads for The Art of Porco Rosso, the Nausicaä manga collection, Bambi, and a time-sensitive offer to get either Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service or Castle in the Sky for just $1.99 shipping and handling, if you buy all three of the current wave's releases.

The featured "Sneak Peeks" - apparently the same on all three titles - are actually quite appropriate and "mature" - no cutesy amusement park ads, no "girl power"-themed pap… Only The Incredibles, Bambi, and all six films of the Studio Ghibli DVD collection released so far. One glaring omission, unfortunately, is the lack of a trailer for Miyazaki's next film, Howl's Moving Castle - coming to the U.S. this summer. Frankly, it's a confusing move on Disney's part.

Porco scans the skies for his air pirate prey. ...now I know the guy likes his shades, but at night too?

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Having watched this film with some reservations initially, in hindsight I should have just put some sure blind faith on Miyazaki. None of his films have yet disappointed me, Porco not least of all. The story, with its opposing elements of character drama and action, is blended so well that, as I said before, it feels like an old Hollywood film from some 60-odd years ago. This film certainly has a high "replayability" in my personal opinion, and to those who still have reservations about such a strange premise, I would heartily recommend a rental, at the very least. This is yet another jewel in the Ghibli crown, and I only wish that more films like these - animated or not - were made in today's mass-production environment.

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Related Reviews
Studio Ghibli:
Nausicaä of the Valley of the WindThe Cat ReturnsPom Poko
Spirited AwayMy Neighbors the YamadasWhisper of the Heart
Castle in the SkyMy Neighbor TotoroHowl's Moving Castle

Disney Movies Featuring the English Voice Cast:
Finding NemoA Bug's Life (Brad Garrett)
Jungle 2 JungleBeauty and the Beast (David Ogden Stiers)
Hercules (Susan Egan)
Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (Cary Elwes)

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Reviewed February 21, 2005.