It's about time that plane-flying Italian pilot pigs got their own movie!
Set between WWI and II, Porco Rosso follows an ex-fighter pilot-turned-freelance bounty hunter, who was cursed some time ago to physically look exactly like a pig, as he befriends a young mechanic called Fio and faces off against a bunch of moronic air pirates. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki himself, this one's not too dense in terms of story but it does have a lot of subtleties about it which help make the film's straight-forward plot a little fuller and more interesting. This is more of a character piece, the film slowly but surely letting us discover the real man behind the pig (yes, I realise how silly this sounds) and, like Fio, we get to eventually filter out the introverted character's true humanity. It's a sweet, mature movie with some top notch animation which really starts showing off during the exciting and beautiful-looking action sequences. Porco Rosso thankfully doesn't feel episodic at all when it could have easily gone down that predictable route of having the character just go around on various missions, as if several anime episodes had been clumsily merged together (here's looking at you, R.O.D). Based on one of Miyazaki's own watercolour mangas, we can already see the filmmaker's fascination with European settings and planes (we'll see more of that in The Wind Rises, of course). The film could have easily been super-cute or cartoonish but it's actually much more of an old-fashioned adventure with its quiet moments, an underlying, melodramatic yet subtle love triange and a focused storyline. Which is not to say it doesn't have fun: the pirates are a riot, Porco Rosso himself is quietly charming and Fio is a very likeable feisty sidekick. Plus the whole thing ends with an epic air-bound duel that, again, could have easily been dull but is, in fact, completely satisfying and hugely entertaining.
The style of the film is reminiscent of those old serials that inspired the likes of Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, The Rocketeer and the Indiana Jones movies. Except that, here, nothing feels rushed and special care is taken to fill the film with memorable moments, stunning visuals you just want to sit back and admire for ages and a genuinely compelling backstory, for once. Whether you're interested in planes or not, Porco Rosso is still an irresistible flick. Miyazaki probably understood that kids might not have been too fascinated by the subject matter if it had been packed full of technical stuff or political backgrounds so that's why, although we're introduced to mechanics with plans etc. we don't dwell on the specifics of their work and we get just the right amount of it so that it still looks kinda fun and helps us understand why the character is stopping by in Italy instead of staying where he is and fighting back straight away. Rosso's plane is like a character of its own, it's like his Batmobile or something so, even though it may not have too many fancy gadgets, it still comes off as really cool somehow. It's intriguing that a sequel called Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie is actually in the works and should be written but not directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Hiromasa Yonebayashi should be directing instead) but, as unlikely as it is that it'll match the first film quality-wise, I'm certainly looking forward to it and curious to see where they take those characters.
All in all, Porco Rosso often gets overlooked by casual Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki fans since its pig theme may sound a little juvenile at first but really, this is a much more substantial piece than the likes of Ponyo or even My Neighbor Totoro. It's smart, unique, very entertaining and has a lot of heart. I definitely recommend you checking it out, I was frankly pleasantly surprised.