After working on three slice-of-life films back to back, it only seemed fitting for Studio Ghibli to return to making adventure films once again like they did when they first started. Hayao Miyazaki is a director that excels at making fun adventure films that are filled to the brim with excellent and exciting sequences. While I wouldn't say that his 1992 film "Porco Rosso" is among the strongest of those films since it has a fair amount of problems that do hold it back from it becoming one their finest works, I'd still say that it's another further demonstration of Miyazaki and Ghibli's strong skills and has some amazing animation and fantastic set pieces. It was a film that sure did entertain me and had some moments that really do stand tall in Studio Ghibli's catalog.
Off the shores of Italy in 1929, a former fighter ace turned bounty hunter named Marco (Shūichirō Moriyama) has been fighting off air pirates and defending people from attacks then afterward treating himself to a meal at the hotel run by an old flame of his named Gina (Tokiko Kato). He's also known for having an unusual curse put upon him that transforms him into an anthropomorphic pig and has earned the nickname "Porco Rosso". One day when an American pilot named Donald Curtis (Akio Ōtsuka) flies into Italy, he falls in love with Gina but she quickly rebuffs him as she is in love with Porco. Frustrated by this, Curtis shoots Porco out of the sky during a dogfight and ends up destroying Porco's beloved airplane. Wanting revenge in a dogfight, Porco travels to Milan and with the help of the mechanic's granddaughter, Fio Piccolo (Akemi Okamura), Porco is off to challenge Curtis in another dogfight to defend his honor and show what a true pilot is capable of.
As I stated at the beginning of the review, this is not what I'd call one of Studio Ghibli's or director Hayao Miyazaki's best films. This film has a lot of flaws that do hold it back a fair bit from becoming one of the studio's most pristine works, but it's also a film that surely has a lot of charm and heart behind it like the titular protagonist that really helps it lift off the ground and stick. It's also nice to see Miyazaki return once again to making another adventure film in the veins of "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" and "Castle in the Sky" after helming "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Kiki's Delivery Service" which were a lot calmer and felt more subdued and this film really delivers in having some fun set pieces. I think those particular set pieces are really what help elevate the story since it doesn't feel as cohesive as it does. Throughout the first twenty minutes or so until Porco reaches Milan, the film is a little bit unclear on what it's trying to establish and I had a bit of a hard time understanding what the film was trying to set up for a while. Once the film gets near the end though, a lot of it clicked for me and I was able to get what Miyazaki was trying to convey. I also really greatly respected the great attention to detail when building the plane. It probably helps that Miyazaki's father owned an aircraft shop which is what made Miyazaki fall in love with airplanes and the idea of flying in general and you could tell he was very passionate about making sure everything came together perfectly. It goes to show you that any kind of research done for an animated film can really pay off in the end. Though as I previously stated, what helps make this film work are some of the amazing scenes and set pieces the film has built to a really exciting dogfight in the third act with bits of pretty funny comedy sprinkled in that reminded me a lot of the air pirates from "Castle in the Sky". My favorite scene of the film is kind of an abstract scene where Porco recounts his days during the war where he lost his friends and he claims to have seen somewhat of an afterlife. The animation in that scene is particularly gorgeous and Joe Hisaishi's score is very mysterious and otherworldly and it's what really makes the scene stand out.
As far as the animation goes, it's very good. Once again, Ghibli has created a very gorgeous world and I really loved the calming look of Italy and the Mediterranean presented in this film. There are a lot of shimmering greens in the film and they really look beautiful contrasting off of Porco's red airplane. The flying scenes are also well constructed and have great action and suspense as well as incredible shots including an overhead moving shot as we see Gina on her balcony from Porco's plane. The whole balcony itself was animated by hand and that level of attention and detail is something I've got to applaud. Then there are the characters who do carry some of the film's flaws as most weren't as fully fleshed as they could be. Porco Rosso himself is an interesting protagonist and I do think his growth and him gaining more confidence and respect were nicely realized. He starts off very much as a jerk and at times can act rather sleazy and a show-off which helps him flesh out by the end of the film when he meets Fio and see's what she's capable of. I don't think he's Miyazaki's best protagonist since the curse he has is rather unclear and it's never really clearly explained how he got it. Another reason why he didn't fully click with me was that his eyes were mostly obscured by sunglasses throughout the entire film. The eyes are the most important aspect to a character in animation and I do think keeping his eyes obscured made me have a little bit of a harder time connecting with him, but I do think a lot of his charm still seeped through which came down to him having some funny lines. As far as the other characters go, I really liked both Fio and Donald Curtis since the former was a great sidekick who was morally supportive, strong, and wise while the latter was a goofy antagonist who was very self-obsessed and a bit naive. The banter between him and Porco was especially fun. I do think Gina is the one character of the film I'm still not sure how to make out since her presence was minimal and the relationship she has with Porco isn't very fully fleshed. The scenes that she's in weren't bad, but I just wanted more explored with her.
In the end, "Porco Rosso" is a bit uneven but still a fun adventure film. The story has some fun set pieces and scenes, the animation is tight and has great attention to detail, and the characters are mostly fun even if some could've been a bit more fully realized. Even if this isn't one of Studio Ghibli's or Hayao Miyazaki's best films, I still had a very good time with this film that I can easily give it a somewhat strong recommendation. It may not be the best Miyazaki film to really take flight, but it sure has some great moments that truly soar.