Saturday, June 2, 2018

REVIEW: Porco Rosso (anime movie)

Porco Rosso is a historical adventure with fantasy elements. I saw it at my local movie theater as part of the 2018 Studio Ghibli Fest.


I really should have written this review the day I saw the movie, the same way I've done the other Studio Ghibli Fest movies. Well, I'll do my best, even though it's two weeks late.

I wasn't quite sure about Porco Rosso's time period, but a little googling indicates it's set during the 1920s. Porco Rosso is an Italian pilot turned bounty hunter who rescues a group of young girls at the beginning of the movie. When his plane starts having trouble, he heads to Milan to have it serviced by his favorite mechanic, even though there's a warrant for his arrest in Italy. His time in Milan nets him a temporary companion, Fio Piccolo, a young female mechanic and the granddaughter of Porco's usual mechanic. She accidentally ends up involved in Porco's ongoing conflict with an American pilot who's working with a bunch of pirates.

There wasn't a whole lot to the story, and I wasn't enough of an airplane fan to make up for that. Still, I think this was probably the best of the Studio Ghibli Fest offerings so far. The flying scenes were fun, and I really enjoyed Porco's time in Milan. Porco was a bit sexist, so watching him have to swallow his pride and accept the help of what looked to be the entire female side of his mechanic's family was amusing.

However, the movie's tone was odd. Even at the very beginning, it struck me as being strangely fluffy and light-hearted considering what was happening on-screen. The pirates took a bunch of schoolgirls hostage and yet were too gentle to actually treat them like hostages. The girls ran roughshod over them, practically taking over. Then Porco swooped in and started shooting. Instead of screaming in fear, the girls shrieked in excitement, completely unafraid of the possibility that they might die in a plane crash or get hit by a stray bullet.

This would have been okay if the movie had continued to present all the bad guys as basically toothless and death as a thing that didn't exist - I could have written it off as kids' movie fluffiness. However, later on Fio broke down crying after an encounter with some pirates and admitted that she'd been afraid the whole time she was standing up to them. Also, a flashback showed Porco just before he became the pig-man viewers had gotten to know him as, watching as his comrades and enemies ended up in some kind of pilots' afterlife. Death and violence did exist in this world, but the movie tried to keep those aspects vague. I found myself wishing that the tone had stayed goofy throughout, because the more serious moments just felt off.

Speaking of Porco's appearance, that aspect, too, was odd. He repeatedly tried to explain his appearance as being due to his own pig-like personality, and his transformation had something to do with him being the only survivor during his last wartime battle. Still, no true explanation was ever given, and the rules governing his transformation seemed sketchy at best. Also, it bothered me that the fantasy element felt so tacked-on. Porco could have been human throughout the entire movie and it would have made almost no difference.

I wasn't a fan of the fist fight, and the ambiguous ending bothered me, even though I'd never been a fan of Porco and Gina's almost-romance to begin with. Oh, and Curtis falling instantly in love with Fio was gross. He was a grown man, and Fio was a 17-year-old girl. Porco blushed around her a bit too (seriously, what is with this movie and adult men falling for underage girls?), but at least he didn't do anything.


This is the first Studio Ghibli Fest movie that ended with me still recalling the short film that came just before it. This, unfortunately, is not a good thing. The short film was Bill Plympton's "Guide Dog." It was awful, and whoever decided it was a good lead-in to Porco Rosso should be fired or, at the very least, demoted.

Warning: spoilers for the short movie from this point on.

It started off well enough. A dog so ugly it was cute spotted a "help wanted" sign for a guide dog position and convinced a shadowy man to hire him. The dog was thrilled about its new job, up until it noticed that it and its client had been carried high up in the air by birds while its attention was elsewhere. It dropped to the ground, while its client remained up in the air with the birds.

What happened next pushed the short film from so-so to straight up horrifying. The dog convinced the shadowy man to give it another chance. The dog stayed on high alert with its next client, barking at anything that was even vaguely near its client. However, it was so careful and alert that it didn't manage to get its client completely across the street before she was hit by a truck. The dog convinced the shadowy man to give it yet another chance. It raced its third client through the entire city at top speed so that literally nothing could touch him. Unfortunately, this caused its client to have a heart attack. The dog finally got fired, and the short ended with its first client being dropped from the sky to his death.

Who thought this was a good short film to show prior to Porco Rosso? Or anything, for that matter? Treating the deaths of multiple blind people as a joke is not cool. Although the deaths weren't graphic, I still felt ill. The film's increasingly traumatized dog certainly didn't help. There were no families with children at my Porco Rosso showing, but there certainly could have been at other showings across the country, and I shuddered at the thought.

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