PorcoRossocoverGrade: B+/A-
Entire family: No
1992, 93 min., Color
Rated PG for violence and some mild language
Disney/Studio Ghibli
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: Japanese and English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD
Bonus features: C

Disney is high on Studio Ghibli—otherwise they wouldn’t have contracted to release all of the Japanese animation studio’s titles on Blu-ray for U.S. audiences. While anime won’t appeal to everyone because of the distinctive-but-strange style and storylines that meander a bit more than American audiences are used to, Porco Rocco might be the exception to win over families . . . at least those with older children.

When I say “older,” I mean teenagers who have some sense of history and can appreciate the film’s basic premise.

The title of this feature alludes to The Red Baron, and Porco Rosso (1992) is as heavily atmospheric as it is quirky. It plays out like a post-WWI movie about fighter pilots or an ill-fated love story like Casablanca, and there are tropes here that we recognize—like the jaded, 1920’s hero who carries the weight of being the only pilot to survive the biggest dogfight of all during WWI, and who resembles a trenchcoat-wearing Sam Spade or any other tough-talking, drinking and smoking private eye.

Aside from a knock-down, drag-out fistfight, there’s not nearly as much violence (or drinking or smoking or swearing) as you’d expect for a film of this sort. That’s because director Hayao Miyazaki loves magic almost as much as he loves airplanes and realism, and Porco Rosso has elements that would qualify it as a magical realist work of art.

If you cross Casablanca with The Sun Also Rises, The Dawn Patrol, and Beauty and the Beast,” you’ll get something close to Porco Rosso, which means “Crimson Pig” in English.  

PorcoRossoscreenPorco (voiced by Michael Keaton in the dubbed version) is making a living as a fly-for-hire seaplane fighter who has a contract with a commercial shipping magnate to engage seaplane pirates if they threaten his ships. But it’s all very gallant, and just as fighter pilots had respect for each other during WWI (it was, after all, a small fraternity, no matter how many countries the pilots represented) Porco and the pirates drink at the same establishment—the equivalent of Casablanca’s “Rick’s,” run by Gina, who, like Bogie’s character, has a history with the other main character. Their lives get more complicated, though, when the pirates hire an American ace to take him out. Curtis (voiced in the dubbed version by Cary Elwes) hopes to carve a name for himself and go on to become a Hollywood star—another allusion to Errol Flynn, whom he vaguely resembles?

The Italian government is after Porco, and in an engaging sideplot so is the teenage granddaughter of his airplane mechanic-designer. But Porco, like any good Hemingway hero, lives by a code that’s just a little more honorable than the rest of the world—though he does drink, smoke, and “womanize.” Or rather, he did.

There’s an epic battle between Porco and Curtis, and a poignant scene in which Marco watches the airplanes and the pilots that were downed in battle all riding a jet stream to heaven. There are also big issues swirling around, in addition to the many allusions to other films and novels. As a result, Porco Rosso is indeed one of Miyazaki’s most successful films, and probably my favorite anime movie because it is so richly textured.

Will it be right for family viewing? Probably not, unless your children have been studying world history and the two world wars. But it’s one of the best anime films I’ve seen, and the PG rating is pretty accurate.