Marco Paggott may have once been an ace pilot who served in the Air Force during the First World War, but some time after the war had ended, a mysterious spell transformed the man, leaving him with the face of a pig! Now, some years later, Marco is better known as “Porco Rosso’ (Crimson Pig), a freelance bounty hunter who frequently clashes with air pirates in the skies above the Adriatic Coast- at least until they hire a rival pilot named Curtiss to deal with him. After coming off somewhat the worse in his first clash with Curtiss, Porco heads to Milan, where youthful mechanic Fio Piccolo begins repairing his plane in preparation for the inevitable rematch”¦
The tale of a pilot with the face of a pig is perhaps one that seems simplistic and gimmicky at first glance, but to dismiss Porco Rosso as such would be to do the film a disservice. Admittedly, the story is none too complex, but this turns out to be quite advantageous with regards to the pacing, ensuring that the film is an enjoyable outing which does not suffer the story compression and incoherence that plague so many other movies.
What really makes the film shine, however, is its strong (albeit unconventional) lead character. Giving him the face of a pig is the perfect way to summarise Porco’s character- with most of his friends having been killed in the war, he is a loner and near-outcast whose blunt manner and disregard for the rules have earned him more adversaries than friends. Gifted with a sardonic sense of humour and, unsurprisingly, a good heart deep down, Porco is an almost instantly likeable character, and it is easy to find yourself willing him to succeed as you get caught up in his story.
Given that this is a Ghibli movie, it’s hardly unexpected that the film boasts its fair share of comical elements and laugh out loud moments designed to give it that “family’ appeal. Even the antagonists can hardly be taken seriously- the air pirates are always accompanied by light-hearted music, and even manage to botch a raid within the first ten minutes of the movie, whilst Curtis is the stereotypical brash American, quite talented in the air, but otherwise more full of hot air than sense.
That being said, the humour is well balanced by a fair sprinkling of more serious scenes, with Porco’s recollection of the WWI dogfight that claimed the lives of his friends marking one of the more heartfelt scenes in the movie. Unfortunately, not all of the darker content of the film is portrayed as well, with a subplot about the Air Force and secret police wanting to arrest Porco for past misdemeanours only touched on as a convenient plot point here and there.
Of course, with the film revolving so firmly around Porco himself, it is inevitable that the supporting cast receive little to no development in comparison. All of them are undoubtedly well defined characters, but they exist more to interact with Porco than to receive much attention of their own- Curtiss and the air pirates act as the aforementioned rivals and antagonists, whilst love interest Gina and the spunky Fio (a typical Miyazaki heroine in the mould of Kiki and NausicaÃ¤) help to take the edge off of Porco’s gruff character.
When it comes to visuals, Ghibli have maintained the usual standard, making up for the dearth of their usual fantasy elements with some detailed backdrops and a healthy dose of well-animated flight sequences. The only letdown is the lack of originality with regards to character designs- everyone except Porco seems to have been drawn from “standard Ghibli stock’. Tie it all together with a solid soundtrack, however, and the film’s presentation is more than respectable overall.
A simple tale focussed on a strong and likeable lead character, Porco Rosso is a well paced movie that turns out to be surprisingly engaging and enjoyable. Although it will most likely never possess the acclaim or sheer impact of the better known Ghibli works, it is well worth giving this one a chance.