The Other Side of Animation 93: Porco Rosso Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

For as much as the film and entertainment industry loves to do movies about war-time settings, we rarely get them outside of the World War II area. Sure, we have Vietnam war films like Platoon and Apocalypse Now, but whenever we get a war movie, it’s more or less the second World War. They have started to spread out the settings and plots with some truly fantastic films like Hacksaw Ridge, and the upcoming Dunkirk, but I rarely see a movie that takes place, or is set around a certain period of time in World War I. I feel like as content creators for the entertainment industry, we could start expanding out into different time periods. I think that’s what drew me into today’s review, Porco Rosso. Directed by the ever amazing Hayao Miyazaki, Porco Rosso was originally made and released in 1992, but the US only got it in the mid-2000s with the help of Disney. Yeah, normally I don’t tackle films made or distributed by Disney, but since they don’t technically have the full rights to distribute the film anymore, I’m going to talk about Ghibli films more often. So, is Porco Rosso truly unique? Does it deserve to be one of my all-time favorite films? Well, let’s take a look.

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Porco Rosso follows our main hero, Porco Rosso/Marco Pagot/Rossolini (depending on what version you own or which dub you watch), voiced by Michael Keaton. He’s an ex Italian fighter pilot, who now lives in a post-World War I world, and is a bounty hunter. All he does is sleep the day away, drink wine, and on occasion, fight seaplane pirates. One day though, after seeing his longtime friend Madame Gina, voiced by Susan Egan, Porco gets called to task and ends up getting into a fight with an American pilot named Donald Curtis, voiced by Cary Elwes. After losing the fight with Curtis, Porco goes into hiding, and travels to Italy to get his plane fixed. He gets the help of a craftsman Mr. Piccolo, voiced by David Ogden Stiers, and with the help of his granddaughter Fio Piccolo, voiced by Kimberly Williams-Paisley, get Porco’s plane fixed. Can Porco get back into the air and take down Curtis?

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So, what makes this one of my all-time favorite movies? Well, it has a lot of elements that blend well together. For one, it has the trademark laid-back atmosphere of what you normally see in a Studio Ghibli film. While this is a film about flying planes and getting into fights with them, the fighting takes a back seat to focus more on the characters, and their interaction with the world and time period they live in. While I can understand the confusion of that aspect and maybe wanting one more fight sequence in the air, the film is more about Porco and his life after the World War I. As you can probably tell from the title of the film or from his name, Porco is a walking talking humanoid pig. Apparently, after a rather terrible and sad incident during the war, he was cursed to be a pig. His outlook on life was more lazy and cynical, and he really didn’t mind that. He knew how the world worked, and was disgusted by it. He would rather live alone in an island out-cove with his valuable plane, while drinking and laying around all day, than join a side, and fight for a country with certain beliefs. A lot of people have asked why they made him a pig in the movie, and, well, I think what I just said describes a pig perfectly. Stubborn, prideful, lazy, they would rather just wallow where they rest, instead of doing something else. It was also an inside joke from the studio, since Hayao Miyazaki has been infamous for being a stubborn, grumpy individual. He apparently loved pigs, and has always portrayed himself as one. It’s more about what the pig symbolizes than a simple gimmick. I have seen some reviewers not understand that, and constantly be distracted by that fact, without taking a moment to think about it and understand it. It’s one of the few times where the phrase “you didn’t get it” comes into play, and rightfully deserves use of that phrase.

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The film is also fairly light-hearted in tone. Everyone from Porco to the pirates are not really that imposing or intimidating. I mean, they kind of are, but it’s a more lightweight kind of intimidation. Even the leader of the pirates, voiced by Brad Garrett, is probably one of the best side characters Ghibli have ever come up with. He yells loudly, is also stubborn and prideful, but he isn’t above telling a bunch of little kids he kidnapped to calm down and not jump off the plane. The pirates don’t even hurt them. It does that thing I love where there is no real bad guy. Curtis is bad since he almost killed Porco, but he’s not evil. He’s just a celebrity in a time period where being a celebrity was becoming more of a big deal, and he thinks he should be getting everything a celebrity deserves. He even calls out Porco on some of his stubbornness in the last third of the film. This tone makes a lot of the characters fun to be around, from Mr. Piccolo, his family, and the seaplane pirates, to even smaller characters that Porco runs into, like the weapon crafters. Actually, I think the weapon crafters have one of my favorite scenes from any movie, where one of them asks what the difference between making money off war and bounty hunting is. The line basically goes “If you make money off of war, you’re scum, but if you can’t make money off of bounty hunting, you’re an idiot.” It took a few viewings for me to really hear that line, and find some charm in it. Don’t get me wrong, the tone can be rather mature, and it doesn’t shy away from the fact that a lot of people died in the war, and there is a lot to unpack with Porco as a character, but it’s not shoved in your face. It knows when to show off the more whimsical tones, the anti-war tones, and so on and so forth. It also feels unique, since it’s not really a war film. It takes place during that period in time, but it’s not about battles or killing soldiers. It’s just characters dealing with the changing times between periods of violent and terrifying war.

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Animation-wise, well, it’s Studio Ghibli. What should you expect from none other than some of the best animation around? Great character movements, spot-on physical comedy, fantastic expressions, subtle movements, gorgeous colors, breath-taking scenery, fast and fun flight sequences, and great character designs. This film also has one of my favorite voice casts of all time, with Michael Keaton doing a perfect job as playing stubborn and prideful Porco, Brad Garrett as a great comedic antagonistic foil, Susan Egan as Gina, a beautiful, yet stern singer at her own private island, David Ogden Stiers as the quirky repairman, and Kimberly Williams-Paisley as the optimistic and strong-willed granddaughter Fio. Probably one of my favorite casting choices is Cary Elwes as Donald Curtis. At first, it’s really shocking, since they got a British guy to do a rather over-the-top American voice, but it fits that point in history of how a stereotypical American would sound, and he brings a lot of passion and energy to the role. Even the minor characters voiced by Bill Fagerbakke, Kevin Michael Richard, Frank Welker, Jeff Bennett, Dee Bradley Baker, and many more all do a fantastic job, no matter how small their roles are. Of course, I would be silly to not bring up the beautiful and fun soundtrack by Ghibli composer, Joe Hisaishi. He definitely has more light, bombastic, and whimsical tones, but also beautiful slow-paced songs that fit the quiet tone of certain areas in the film.

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If I had to really nitpick, and I really do mean nitpick, I think I probably would have liked maybe the first time you see Curtis fight with the seaplane pirates not cut off so abruptly. I get why they did it, but I would have liked to have seen one more fun airplane fight.

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Outside of that, I have no real complaints. I love this movie from head to toe. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies, and is easily a film I would highly recommend showing off to anyone new or old to cinema. It’s also one of the best wartime films, and if for some reason you haven’t seen it yet, please do. I could easily talk about different lines and different scenes from this movie all day, and it stands up there with Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, and Paprika as one of my favorite Japanese animated films. Unfortunately, I must move onto the next movie to review. Luckily, it’s a film I also deeply love, as next time, we will take a look at My Life as a Zucchini. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

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Worst to Best Animated Films of 2013 Part 3 (Finale)

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

Now it’s time to look at the final 11 films from 2013, and be done with this underwhelming year of movies!

11. Colorful

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Before making one of my favorite films of 2016, Miss Hokusai, Keiichi Hara made this animated feature, Colorful. This film is about a soul that gets a second chance at life by being brought back into the body of a young boy who committed suicide. It is up to the soul to find out who he is before six months are up. For the first half of the film, I was not enjoying it. I thought the character designs were ho-hum, the lead character was a giant jerk, it was sort of boring to sit through, and the lead’s voice actor was really annoying. I was sitting there wondering why it was so popular at festivals, and why so many people were gushing over it like it was the most important animated film of all time. When I got to the second half, it finally started to get good, and show why this film was made and its purpose. I loved the scenes between the lead and the father, the lead with the odd friend, and the more atmospheric and quiet moments. When the lead was actually putting his head into the game as to why he was chosen to be brought back, he becomes much more interesting as a character. It has a lot of great moments, but sitting through half a film of mean-spirited characters to get to a really good second half was difficult. I’ll go more into detail at a later date with this film, but I can definitely say that in the end, it was worth checking out.

10. Approved for Adoption

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This is one of the few animated films from 2013 that I would wholly consider unique. Approved for Adoption is an animated/live action documentary about the life of Korean-Belgium comic artist known as Jung. It is about his life when he was adopted by a Belgium family when he was a kid during the Korean War. It’s mixed with beautiful CGI-animated sequences, home-movie footage, and archival footage from that period in time. You can technically call this cheating, since it isn’t purely animated, but in my opinion, it’s animated enough to count. It deserves to exist more so than half the movies on this list. It’s a touching story of Jung’s life as he grows up with his adopted family, and finds his identity in the world. I do have some complaints, like the CGI animation is at times clunky, kid Jung is a punk, and the mother is unlikable as the film goes on. I wasn’t expecting rainbows and lollipops, in fact, it’s probably best that the film doesn’t sugarcoat the actual person’s life, but still. It’s definitely a film that’s not going to appeal to everyone, but it’s a touching story that deserves your attention.

9. Frozen

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I’ll be frank, the reason why this film is in this spot is because Disney milked it to death, and it ruined the charm for me. It’s still a great movie, with likable characters, great dialogue, funny comedy, touching moments, and is overall a fantastic film, but Disney couldn’t let this film be. They squeezed so much cash from this cow that it started to bring out the hipster effect, to where the film got too popular and people started to backlash against it. It does have its faults, like the troll song in the third act, the villain, and the unique fact that this is the first Disney film to be about two sisters and one becomes a queen, but they stay separated for a majority of the film. The ending is also pretty weak, but it’s still great, due to how touching the final moment is and how good the acting was. I still love this movie, but I think a few elements could be better.

8. From Up on Poppy Hill

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I know there is a bit of a split on whether people like this movie or not, but with the exception of the ending, I really enjoyed the story of two kids in a post-World War 2 setting. It really reminds me of the corny, but ultimately charming, Whisper of the Heart. It’s a very laid-back film that has some really great moments between characters, and a rather intriguing mystery on whether the two leads are actually related. Unfortunately, the ending just abruptly happens, and it ends on a whimper. It’s a shame, since the film was directed by Goro Miyazaki and was written by Hayao Miyazaki. It’s still a solid movie, but I wish the ending was better.

7. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox

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There is very little surprise as to why this is one of the best reviewed DC-animated films. It’s a well-executed mature film about a “what if” situation focusing on The Flash, and shows the results of one change to the timeline, and how one thing just dominoes into a much different future. The mystery was good, the history changes were intriguing. It was interesting to see some of the dramatic changes, like how Bruce Wayne is killed, and his parents become Batman and The Joker separately, and how essentially, the cataclysmic event of the film was partly started by one of DC’s punching bags, Aquaman. Yeah, I have a few problems that revolve around that, but in the end, that was the one problem I had with this film. It always seems like the writers for the animated stuff had more fun writing for The Flash than any other character. This is one of the few DC animated films that I have seen that I would highly recommend watching on Netflix, or buying a copy if you are curious.

 6. The Painting

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This is essentially Inception with paintings. It is the story of people who live inside paintings that go and search for their creator. This is one of my favorite European-animated films of this decade. I just love the focus, and sincere emotions, and chemistry the characters have for one another. I love the sequences where they jump to and from different paintings that lead them into different worlds and min-sets of said worlds. I adore the great colorful art style that definitely makes this CGI film stand above and beyond a majority of the competition in terms of how good CGi from overseas can look. I do wish there were some sequences explained more, but I can live with that.

5. Wrinkles

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Here is possibly the saddest film on the list. Wrinkles is a film from Spain that follows the life of a retired banker who is slowly going through the states of Alzheimer, voiced by Martin Sheen, as he is moved into a retirement home and becomes roomates/friends with  another old man, voiced by the late George Coe. The story is very mature, and is very much about the relationship between Sheen and Coe’s characters, and how they affect one another. It’s touching, sad, visually fun, humorous, charming, and that last scene. I cried during that last sequence because the words said are so tragic, yet touching. It does have a groaner joke here and there, and I can totally understand if this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I can highly recommend Wrinkles for anyone looking for a mature animated film that isn’t a stoner comedy.

4: A Letter to Momo

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Once you know this was directed by the same guy who did Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, it makes for an interesting contrast between that dark political thriller and this mature, but more light-hearted film. I have reviewed this film as well, as it’s a wonderful slice-of-life drama dealing with the loss of a loved one, and moving on. It has great characters, wonderful comedic animation, and has yet another Ghibli-style mood and atmosphere with how laidback a good chunk of the film is. There are some moments that somewhat annoy me, but they never bothered me enough to ruin the experience. The best characters were very much the three spirits that follow our female lead around. They worked well off each other, were hilarious, and were likable characters by the end of it all. It can be a very odd movie, but I highly recommend checking out A Letter to Momo if you are looking for a good Studio Ghibli-style movie.

3: Ernest & Celestine

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This was the film that got me into loving everything that GKids does, so it should be no surprise that I put it this high on the list. I already did a review of this movie since it was my very first animated film review, but the story of a mouse and bear becoming close friends in a world where that isn’t allowed, won my heart over, and was the film I think should have won Best Animated Feature, but I digress on that. The beautiful watercolor art direction, with some great animation and good timeless physical comedy, combined with some great chemistry among the characters, makes this one of the most appealing animated films to watch and is easily the first one I would recommend watching if you want to get into the GKids library of animated films.

2. The Wind Rises

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This is definitely one of the more controversial animated films of the past few years. The Wind Rises is a romanticized/fictional biographical story of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed the kamikaze fighter jets. I can definitely understand the raised brows and concerns, but since this is Hayao Miyazaki, they don’t approve or praise what Jiro did. More of the focus is Jiro’s passion of making planes. He even regrets and hates that his beautiful planes and designs were used for such a hateful incident. The rest of the movie is about his journey and life as a plane designer. It has everything you love about Ghibli films with its atmosphere, likable characters, quiet moments, and the whimsy. The voice cast is also fantastic, with Joseph Gordon Levitt doing an amazing job as Jiro. Sure, the love interest played by Emily Blunt might not be in the movie a lot, but she and Jiro, while not having too much time on screen, are adorable. I just loved this movie, and if this was actually Miyazaki’s final film, I would have been happy. It might be long, but The Wind Rises is a fantastic movie.

1. Wolf Children

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Surprise of the century that a Japanese animated film could do a better job at a Pixar/Disney film than Disney and Pixar in 2013! Seriously though, Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children is my favorite movie from this year. The story of a widow taking care of her half-human half-wolf kids is right up there with Spirited Away in terms of the best Japanese animated films of all time. It does everything right, in terms of an animated movie. It has likable/endearing characters, a well-paced story, subtle mystical elements that never feel distracting, complex themes of how kids can grow up differently, kid characters who are actually good, top-notch animation, and a fantastic musical score. It’s what you look for in a movie and it’s just a perfect animated film. If you felt like 2013 was bad in terms of animation, I dare you to say that after watching Wolf Children.

The Other Side of Animation Lupin the 3rd Special Part 1: Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Welcome to part one of the Lupin the 3rd special! This is where we look at films/specials that are all about our favorite thief! After such an enraging experience of watching of Norm of the North that will be topped by two other movies, I think it’s time to talk about one of the top 3 greatest animation icons of all time and has no equal, Hayao Miyazaki. Ask anyone who is into animation who this guy is, or heck, ask any film lover who this guy is, they will tell you that he is a one of a kind animation god. He executes stories and characters like no other, and has a creativity that animators and studios wish they could copy. Sure, not all of his ideas work, and his grumpy old man attitude can be a tad tedious, but those are just minor nitpicks since, when it comes to movies, I would watch anything he has done. I wanted to pick out a movie to talk about from him since his films are so special. I was thinking about talking about a TV show he worked on called Sherlock Hound, since it’s a wonderful hidden gem series that anyone should check out, but I haven’t watched all the episodes, and I want to make sure I see the whole thing before writing a review about it. I mean, how stupid would it be if critics wrote reviews of films or shows that they didn’t fully watch? So, what did I choose to review of the great Hayao Miyazaki? Well, I thought, “why not watch his directorial debut with Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro?”  This 1979 film was the second film based off of the Lupin the 3rd franchise, and came out essentially a year later after The Mystery of Mamo. It’s an interesting fact to know that we can thank a lot of the current characteristics of Lupin the 3rd and the gang, because of Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli partner/co-founder, Isao Takahata. It really does show off the best elements of the franchise, and cuts away all the tripe that would otherwise plague most anime these days. And if you are curious, this does mean I’m going to be talking about Lupin the 3rd more often now, because there’s so much to talk about with this franchise. Let’s get started on this great underrated gem.

The story once again revolves around our hero Lupin, voiced by David Hayter, and his best friend and partner-in-crime, Jigen, voiced by John Snyder. After a successful heist at a casino, they realize the bills are all forgeries. Lupin then hatches up a new plan to head toward a country where the forgeries might have originated. During a pit stop on the side of the road, Lupin and Jigen encounter and try to save a princess-in-distress named Lady Clarisse, voiced by Bridget Hoffman. After a creative car chase, they find out that she is the soon-to-be bride of the Count of Cagliostro, voiced by Kirk Thorton. Can Lupin and his friends find out about what the heck is going on and solve the mystery within the Grand Duchy of Cagliostro. By the way, the actors I listed are from the Animaze/Manga Entertainment dub. This film has a Streamline dub and the already-mentioned Animaze/Manga Entertainment dub.

So, what is so great about the second canonical film of the Lupin the 3rd franchise? Well, I find it to be a superior film to The Mystery of Mamo, and a lot of the Lupin the 3rd films/specials combined. Let’s talk about the designs for the first part. The art direction/animation has a lot of Miyazaki’s fingerprints. The characters are much more expressive, the lines are smoother, and the animation is actually quite fluid for the time. And that is saying something, since The Castle of Cagliostro came out essentially a year after The Mystery of Mamo. As much as I love the Lupin series from that period of time in the late 70s, the first movie’s animation wasn’t really movie quality. Everything here just feels more impressive in terms of the technical and animation side of the film.

Luckily, The Castle of Cagliostro is not just great animation from 1979 and has some really fun action sequences. The car chase that pops in at about five minutes into the movie is one of the best moments of any action/adventure film. It’s over-the-top, intense, there are stakes, and it put a smile on my face from beginning to end. There are many great scenes, from breaking into the castle to the climatic fight between the Count and Lupin in the clock tower. Another element that is lovingly executed is the slapstick. Unlike Go West!, the slapstick is restrained and is used only when the mood calls for it. It results in the comedy between the characters hitting its target, and makes me smile and laugh every time the quirky moments happen. The voice acting is top-notch. I think the Animaze/Manga Entertainment dub of the film is also pretty iconic and at the same level as the Geneon dub of the original Lupin the 3rd show. They get some pretty good actors for these parts, big and small, including David Hayter (Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid franchise), Kirk Thorton (Jin from Samurai Champloo), Bridget Hoffman (KOS-MOS from Xenosaga), John Snyder (Raoh from the Fist of the North Star animated series), Kevin Seymor (Tessai and Shijima from Ninja Scroll), Dorothy Elias-Fahn (Meryl Stryfe from Trigun) and the fantastic Michael Gregory (Professor Gill from the original Kikaider anime series, Laughing Bull from Cowboy Bebop, and Brilliant Dynamites Neon from Trigun). They all do fantastic work bringing the characters to life. One of the elements I love about Miyazaki’s interpretation of the Lupin cast is how he cuts the fat with everyone. Lupin isn’t as perverted as he is in the show, Fujiko isn’t seen as a great thief/sex object for Japanese sex jokes, but an actual great thief/character, Jigen is pretty much the same, and for what little time Goemon has on-screen, he is pretty humorous. I love the franchise, but I find some of its more anime trope-laden elements to be crude at best, and painfully distracting at worst. It’s like how in Lupin the 3rd: Jigen’s Gravestone, if you took out the scene where Fujiko is naked or just take her out entirely, you would lose nothing from the overall plot. I get why the Lupin cast is how they are, due to the time period they were made, and I still love them, but some of its elements either don’t age well or don’t translate well into other cultural mindsets.

If I had to pick apart a few things I didn’t like about the film, it was probably be because of the intense work schedule and elements that had to be taken out due to the said stressful work schedule, but I found some of the plot elements could have been handled better. Like, there is no mystery as to where the forgeries are coming from, since Lupin knows exactly where they are. While the plot element of Lupin knowing the countess from the past is charming, it could have been taken out. I also wish Goemon had more time on-screen. He had only 14 lines. Yeah, when you have a samurai that can cut a plane in half, you shouldn’t be underutilizing him.

In the end, The Castle of Cagliostro is one of the best adventure movies around. It’s fun, with likable characters, great action, and, for the time, amazing animation. Sure, it does have a little bit of fat it could trim from the plot, but for a first-time movie for Miyazaki, it’s pretty much spot-on. Not many directors can say their first movie was a huge hit. You can get either a DVD or Blu-ray version of this film from Discotek Media. I wish they did a combo pack, but overall, it’s a fantastic movie that I think anyone can enjoy, and not just fans of the franchise. Speaking of fans of the franchise, let’s dive into why making a film only catering to fans can be a bad thing with Lupin the 3rd: Green vs Red. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the review, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!