Family Movie Night: “Porco Rosso” and “Castle in the Sky”

I’m trying to start a new tradition in our family, inspired by Claire of Little Farm, Growing: Fridays as Family Pizza and Movie Night. We’re three weekends in, and I have to say, it’s not really a hard sell. For the first week, my husband G. Grod borrowed 9 (the animated film, not the dancing debacle) at 7yo Drake’s request. This didn’t turn out so well. First, I made the pizzas and didn’t get started till late, so I didn’t get to watch. Second, the movie was too scary for the boys. I asked Drake to get some socks from the laundry room the other day.

“You go,” he said. “Memories of 9 keep me from going into darkness.”

He phrased it so poetically; how could I not comply?

The next two weeks worked out much better, with animated films by one of our favorite film makers, Hayao Miyazaki. He has been, incorrectly to my mind, described at the Japanese Walt Disney. A more accurate analogy is that he’s like the Kurosawa of animation. In the U.S., he is perhaps best known for his sweet children’s fable My Neighbor Totoro, or the more recent Ponyo. We chose two of his earlier works, as the later ones, including Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away are too violent, IMO, for small children.

Porco Rosso
is the story of a former Italian army sea-plane pilot, Marco, who’s been cursed by a witch to take the form of a pig. He frequents a small island bar reminiscent of that from Casablanca. It’s run by Gina, whose pilot fiancee was shot down in the war. Porco has trouble with sea-plane pirates, as well as an uppity American pilot who is vying for Gina’s affection. Along the way, Porco has to deal with costly repairs, police pursuit, and the company of Fio, a traditional Miyazaki heroine: smart, brave and cute as a button. (No mincing princess, she.) It’s a rousing, romantic tale, and charmed both the parents and kids. I’m thrilled to see a sequel is in pre-production.

Castle in the Sky
refers to a floating island, pursed by young Pazu, whose father died soon after seeing it. (In Japanese, the movie was called Laputa, a hat tip to the inspiration from Gulliver’s Travels.) Most people believe it’s a myth, but two others seek it as well: sky-pirate queen Dola, voiced with cackling relish in the US version by Chloris Leachman, and bad-guy secret-agent Muska, voiced by Mark Hamill. Both of them want to kidnap Sheeta, a young girl with an ancient crystal connected with Laputa. But when Muska’s sky ship crashes, Sheeta escapes, and is found floating and unconscious by Pazu who seeks to shield her from her pursuers. This is a suspenseful tale with an undercurrent of the eco-awareness found in other Miyazaki works. There’s adventure, cool robots, treasure and smart, capable kids. As with Porco Rosso, this was a movie that delighted both me and the children.

On deck? We have many movies at home, but I’ve just reserved John Sayle’s Secret of Roan Innish. I saw it years ago at a Philadelphia film festival before it received distribution and was so glad when it did get picked up and released to glowing reviews.

8 Responses to “Family Movie Night: “Porco Rosso” and “Castle in the Sky””

  1. Kate Says:

    This is funny to me because it resonates. I’m trying to start a new Friday night tradition in our family–a nice dinner with a white tablecloth and candles. An end to the week, a celebration of making it, a marking of time, enjoying the upcoming weekend (a completely secular Shabbat eve meal, I guess). D loves it. TR would like to pull off the tablecloth. The food, however, is delicious.

    Of course . . . I’m traveling this Friday and next, so my tradition is exactly one try old, so far.

  2. Inquirer Says:

    I just purchased The Best Old Movies for Families by Ty Burr. You might want to check it out for ideas. We will be watching Errol Flynn as Robin Hood this Weekend.

  3. girldetective Says:

    Inquirer, I borrowed it from the library recently, but didn’t have enough time to give it enough attention. I recently watched one of its recommended movies for kids, Stagecoach, and am not sure I can endorse that rec for young kids. I will get the book again, though, perhaps when we’ve cycled through some of the obvious ones in our collection.

  4. Jon Turner Says:

    Yay! Another fan of CASTLE IN THE SKY! I really appreciate you gave a shout-out to Leachman and Hamill’s performances; both are not only my favorites in the dub, they’re also some of my favorite Ghibli VAs, period.

    As far as PORCO ROSSO goes, it’s not my favorite Miyazaki, but it’s still good. It was a bit funny at first hearing Cary Elwes as Curtis, but I got used to it. I really love Kimberly Williams-Paisley as Fio, though.

  5. girldetective Says:

    Jon, we own the early English dub of My Neighbor Totoro, and have watched it so many times it’s ingrained in my memory. When I tried to watch the later Disney version, it was jarring. Which of those do you prefer, and is your opinion able to be less prejudiced than mine?

  6. Jon Turner Says:

    If you ask me, I honestly like BOTH versions in different ways. The former version IS a good effort from Carl Macek, but Disney’s version also has its charms. I like Dakota and Elle Fanning as Satsuki and Mei, and the translation also feels a bit more smoother. I personally adore both dubs, but it’s really up to you to decide which one is better.

    I’m glad to see that you loved the Disney dubs for LAPUTA, though, that dub is grossly underrated AFAIK; it’s not perfect but it certainly doesn’t deserve backlash. As mentioned, Hamill and Leachman were awesome, but I hope you liked the VAs for the pirates, the general, and Uncle Pom–those guys were just as great. The rescore was very nice as well. As far as the leads were concerned, I don’t think James or Anna are perfect for their characters, but they still did pretty OK in my book.

  7. girldetective Says:

    Jon, I was surprised by how young James was able to make his voice sound for Pazu. I did find Anna’s native Aussie accent to be distracting, as it waxed and waned.

  8. Jon Turner Says:

    Yeah, Paquin didn’t exactly make her accent consistent, although I DID learn that she was born in Canada and grew up in New Zealand. I guess she was in a bit of a “mixed up” phase when she recorded the part. Personally, I liked the accent, as I felt it added to her character. But to each their own.