Saturday, March 13, 2010

Porco Rosso (Disney and JAL Versions)

Despite creating four genuinely well-received (if not critically) English tracks for Ghibli's works, it wasn't until the acquisition of Spirited Away's Oscar for Best Animated Feature that Disney decided to proceed with more English adaptations of Ghibli features.  Their next project was Porco Rosso, which is arguably one of the oddest entries in director Hayao Miyazaki's output.  It also happens to be one of this writer's least favorite of his, but that's another topic.  The dub, hailed by Ghibli insiders as their finest yet, premiered at the Austin Film Festival in 2003 before debuting on DVD on 2005.  That said, reception to it, like all the other Ghibli dubs, have been divided.  There were reviews that sang praises (at places like DVDTimes, UltimateDisney, and DVDTalk), but others were negative for whatever reason (The Ghibli Blog, who dubbed this as "the most frustrating" of the Ghibli-Disney dubs, decrying it as a case of "Disney treating Ghibli's movies like their syrupy cartoon features", as well as Australia's DVDNet, calling it one of the "worst" Disney dubs yet, saying that the actors show no enthusiasm for their roles).  Needless to say, even with a man as respected as John Lasseter at the helm for these dubs since Spirited Away (or even a skillful ADR director like Jack Fletcher), detractors will probably decry these Disney versions as blasphemy either way, and there are some who actively dislike this dub even after its release.  In spite of what the naysayers say, however, any of the Disney Ghibli dubs have done nothing but introduce newcomers to Miyazaki's works, and there are plenty who get a kick of them, including this writer.

As someone who wasn't all that thrilled with Porco Rosso to begin with and as a genuine fan of all the Disney-Ghibli dub tracks, Disney's version is yet another winner, with top-notch performances and writing all around.  Scripted by Spirited Away's Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt, who helmed all the other dubs after Spirited, painstakingly and directed by Tony Bancroft, Disney's dub of Porco Rosso features the usual star-studded cast of actors and smooth, natural writing that one would come to expect from any of their dubs.

Even so, it is important to note that, like Castle in the Sky (LaputaKiki's Delivery Service, and My Neighbor Totoro, there was an early dub prior to Disney's release briefly distributed, but not produced, by Streamline Pictures.  The pre-Disney dubs of Ghibli have been a mixed bag for this viewer.  Macek's own dubs for Kiki and Totoro were better than average and quite good for their day, but Laputa's, produced by an unknown company and distributed by Streamline, was a complete disaster, paling miserably compared to Disney's version (controversial though it may be with fans, the current dub surpasses the '80s version by far).  The same is true of Japan Airlines' Porco Rosso.  While Disney's version of this oddball Miyazaki classic is skillfully done, the JAL version (not done by Streamline, as some fans will say), is just the opposite.  It's as embarrassing as the aforementioned JAL Laputa dub, distractingly cartoonish, and downright laughable.  It's a wonder how anyone can prefer this to the current Disney version.  (It should be noted, too, that this older dub of Porco, like Laputa's, was produced very quickly by an unknown company and saw a limited release, which explains why it isn't very well remembered.)

The cast of Porco Rosso is a considerably small one, so only the principal roles will be fully covered in my review.

PORCO ROSSO (Michael Keaton, Disney dub; Patrick Harlan, JAL dub) -- Even as someone who doesn't really mind some of the more controversial casting choices of Disney's other dubs (e.g. Phil Hartman in Kiki, the leads in Castle, and San and Jigo in Mononoke), I was a little unsure about Keaton portraying the titular character, a (literally) pig-headed pilot who makes a living as a bounty hunter while also earning himself a reputation as a rebel and a womanizer.  Not that I have any sort of loyalty to the original Japanese version or even the supposedly superb French version featuring Jean Reno, but having seen the film at least one time in its native language track, I had an idea of how Porco should sound, and Keaton wasn't it.  After seeing the dub for myself, however, I laid my case to rest:  Keaton is an excellent Porco.  He tends to be deadpan most of the time, and yet somehow this works in favor of his world-weary nature.  When the moments arise for him to shout or be energetic, Keaton does that with pinanche.  Some may have trouble with the occasional pig-grunts he makes, but I personally found it very fitting and added to the role.
By comparison, his JAL dub counterpart (assumed to be Patrick Harlan) misfires from the start as the title character.  Although I could sort of see the character with the deep voice he provides, his Porco sounds even more detached than Keaton.  Particularly embarrassing is a slow, drawn-out, "the dirty rotten scu-u-um."  His laugh also sounds very phoned in, forced, and frankly, not very convincing.  He's guilty of overacting as well.  Even the scenes where Porco supposed to raise his voice never once ring true.  Most cringeworthy example: "Shut u-u-u-u-up.  Just get out of here and leave us alo-o-o-o-one."  Not only is it laughable, it doesn't match the visuals on screen at all.  (It also is strangely reminiscent of Cam Clarke's equally cringeworthy turn as Kaneda from the older Akira dub.)  Opinions may be divided on Keaton, but one listen to Patrick's take, and I have to state that Michael has the upper advantage here.  It's at least not as hokey-sounding or lifeless.

DONALD CURTIS (Cary Elwes, Disney dub; Greg Dale, JAL dub) -- Aside from Porco, the other major character in the film is his rival, a dashing, boastful pilot who falls for every pretty woman he comes across.  Based on this description, he ought to be a villain, but Miyazaki doesn't characterize him as such.  Neither does Elwes, although he does manage to put across his aggressive swagger and arrogance in a way that would make Curtis teeter toward that area.  Even so, it is a very peculiar casting choice, as Elwes, like Jada Pinkett-Smith's Toki in Princess Mononoke, is clearly playing against type.  Curtis is a Southerner (or at least that's what Disney's dub chracterizes him as), and it feels very strange to hear the very British Elwes trying to sound like he's from Texas!  Yet he clearly is enjoying himself, whether he is making proposals to Gina or Fio or taunting Porco in mid-air fights.  A note about the character's origin:  in the Japanese version, Curtis is from Alabama, but due to lipflap purposes, it was decided to make him come from Texas.  Whether that is a distraction or not depends on the viewer.
JAL's Greg Dale's voicing for Curtis itself isn't bad, per say, but his actual acting is another matter.  The normal moments are mediocre at best, and his boastful scenes lack both swagger and smugness.  He's also saddled with laughable dialogue such as "the damn thing's stu-u-uck!" and "Shut up sausage face!"  His most groan worthy moment is when he's pursuing Porco in the clouds, not even yelling forcefully enough, "Don't be a chicken, pig.  Fight me now."  Oddly, he even seems to overact in the wrong moments, particularly in the scene where he attempts to court Gina.  While Elwes plays it smoothly and subtly, Greg sounds like he's not really taking it seriously at all.  He doesn't use a Southern accent of any kind, but in exchange, it's not a particularly good performance, nor frankly, anything remarkable at all.  Elwes puts a lot more life into the part from the start, and easily aces Greg.

GINA (Susan Egan, Disney dub; Faith Bach, JAL dub) -- Having shown her skill in as Lin in Spirited Away, it isn't totally surprising that Miss Egan (better known as Belle from Broadway's Beauty and the Beast) gets to play another role in a Ghibli dub, this time as a sultry, thrice(!)-widowed woman who spends most of her time singing at taverns (and yes, Egan does manage to flex her vocal skills with her impeccable reindition of "Les Temps des Cerises") and secretly longing for her childhood friend, Porco, to return her affections.  Egan has the sort of husky, sensual quality that works brilliantly for this character, and she even adds a touch of sarcasm and humor to her performance, particularly in the scene where she fends off Curtis' advance.  She also doesn't hesitate to let out her emotional edge in moments like the scene where Porco telephones the lady at the Hotel Adriano to inform her that he's making an illegal visit to Italy.  Aside from at least one flat line toward the end, "Marco, get up!", Egan's Gina is a solid performance all around.
The major difference between Egan's turn and Faith Bach's is that her Japanese voice actress' vocal performance of the aforementioned song is retained.  However, Faith's Gina is lacking in every way.  She doesn't have enough sultriness to provide her singing moments, and there is practically no emotion in her lines (and whatever moments of emotion she does manage either results with emphasis on the wrong syllables or ill-fitting with the visuals onscreen).  Again, it's very detached from the part.  The phone conversation between her and Porco, in particular, falls flat because her voice actress comes across like she's simply reading from the script with no genuine feeling, and speed-reading at that.  It's the very definition of "phoning it in."  Egan is much more passionate and emotional by comparison.  The same is true of her laughing scene.  All in all, Egan's performance is easily superior to Faith, who is, at best, miscast.

MAMMA AIUTTO BOSS (Brad Garrett, Disney dub) -- The Mamma Aiutto pirates could very well be seen as a distant cousin of the Dola Gang from Castle in the Sky, as they are, after all, aerial pirates who aren't as evil as they appear to be.  For this film, however, the leader of these rogues is a burly, bearded man who is clearly referred to as their "boss".  No stranger to playing "heavy" characters of this type, it's unsurprising that Brad manages to fit himself into the character, employing a little bit of "Bluto" into the performance.  He is as gravelly as you'd expect, and he tends to spend a lot of time shouting his lines.  That's not really a criticism, though; for characters of this type, giving a more flat, deadpan kind of voice would work against the character.  Garrett obviously relishes his role from the start, and, even though less memorable compared to Cloris Leachman's Dola, his performance is undeniably funny and a riot.
His JAL counterpart is similarly funny… for all the wrong reasons.  Aside from sounding like a goofy cartoon character with a dopey-sounding voice, he delivers his lines exactly like a stock goofy role.  It's the sort of voice you would expect to hear from Rocky and Bullwinkle.  Ironically, the humor to be gained is the kind that is "so bad it's laughable", not because it's actually funny.  It's just hard to take seriously.

MR. PICCOLO (David Ogden Stiers, Disney dub; Clay Lowrey, JAL dub) -- Also making a return appearance in a Ghibli dub is Disney's own good luck charm, who previously spoke for Kamaji in Spirited Away.  While one wouldn't recognize his voice in that role, here it's hard not to think of him as a cousin of Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast, for the tone he uses for this cheeky engineer is somewhat similar to that role.  Where he manages to make it stand out is by providing him with an appropriately Italian accent.  It's an interesting choice, but it's effective nonetheless.  He also gets to have several opportunities to call Porco out on his disapproving views of women by proclaiming "don't be such a pig."  (This is one of the many opportunities that the English script provides for adding in pork-based humor into the dialogue.)
Like Stiers, JAL's counterpart, Clay Lowrey, also provides an Italian accent.  On the flip side, however, his voice is both devoid of character and charm.  He's nowhere nearly as fun to listen to, again, coming across as hokey and cartoony-sounding.  Stiers is the more entertaining of the two by far.

FIO PICCOLO (Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Disney dub; Lynn Harris, JAL dub) -- Fitting nicely into the usual formula of the show-stealer in any of the Ghibli dubs, Kimberly takes the prize for the Best Performance in the dub as the film's appealing and intriguing young female lead, a sprightly mechanic who is much tougher than she appears and is not afraid to show it in any way.  From the start, Kimberly makes Fio an instantly likeable character to root for, and she especially relishes herself in scenes where she chews the Mamma Aiutto gang out for not playing fair with Porco (one of the funniest scenes in the film).  What ultimately makes her performance a real delight, however, is the chemistry between her and Keaton:  it is a joy to listen to, and what ultimately sells Porco Rosso's dub as a whole.
Fio is also the only halfway decent voice in the JAL dub.  Lynn Harris doesn't come across as miscast or cartoonish, for one.  One the flip side, however, her acting is a serious step down from Kimberly, with a lot of lines sounding very awkward, "Great li-i-ines."  She is also guilty of some clumsily delivered bits like, "Greeeeat!  I've already talked to the factory.  I'll order them right away!  You're great, Marco!"  There are a few moments when she comes across as somewhat decent, like her talk with Porco on the beach in the latter half of the movie; even so, such bits are hampered by some unnatural-sounding pauses in-between her lines.  Other scenes where she's supposed to express energy, such as the one where she's scolding the pirates for confronting Porco are also distressingly wooden.  Kimberly was clearly enjoying herself from the start, and for that her performance is easily superior to Lynn.  Lynn COULD have given a good performance, but sadly it's handicapped by the other problems of the JAL dub.

Naturally, Disney uses their usual stable of actors for the supporting characters.  Goofy himself, Bill Farmer, gets to have a brief role as a photographer for the scene where Fio and the (newly cleaned up) pirates pose for a picture; the ubiquitous Tress MacNeille gets to be a newscaster on a boat as well as several of Piccolo's elderly relatives; and others such as Jeff Bennett, Michael Bell, Debi Deriberry, Corey Burton, Sherry Lynn, Rob Paulsen, and Frank Welker are among the incidental voices.
The JAL supporting cast comes across as brashly loud and like Saturday morning cartoon voices from one of those old school 1960's cartoons by comparison.  There's no soul or life to them.

The Disney script adaptation by the Hewitts is pretty much on the same level as their work on Spirited Away and any of the other dubs they've done:  their ADR script is not word for word with the literal translation (as well as it shouldn't be, as such an approach would only result in stale and awkward-sounding dialogue), but is instead constructed to sound both natural and convey the essence of Miyazaki's unusual tale.  While some purists may make noise about the decision to replace lines like "otherwise I'll kill you" with "I'd hate to put you jerks out of business", personally I applaud the decision, as the latter line sounds more fluent and provides more character as a result.  There are also places where the Hewitts get to work in some extra humor ala Kiki's Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky, only not to the sometimes extraneous level as those two dubs, while still enjoyable, occasionally stumbled into.  The JAL dub script, in addition to being guilty of omitting a final line from the original, flows nowhere nearly as smoothly.  It also borders on cheesy and laughable, particularly the following exchange between Porco and Curtis in the air:

JAL Curtis:  One on one!  Fight me, pig!
JAL Porco:  Buzz off, sausage breath!
JAL Curtis:  Don't be a chicken, pig.  Fight me now!
JAL Porco:  Take your fightin' stuff off, I'm on vacatio-o-on!

Disney's version goes like this in comparison:

Disney Curtis:  Fight me, pig!  One on one!
Disney Porco:  No thanks, Tex.  Kinda busy.
Disney Curtis:  If you run away, I'll tell everyone you're chicken!
Disney Porco:  Chicken, pig, what's the difference?

More complimentary to the Disney version is that the exchange is better acted and nowhere nearly as embarrassingly cartoonish as the JAL dub.  It should also be noted that the JAL dub does not include the last line of Gina's speech from the end.  Fans will argue that it at least doesn't alter Porco's line "A pig who doesn't fly is just a pig" as opposed to the slightly Disneyfied (to the mouth movements) "Sorry baby, gotta fly."  But accuracy alone does not a better dub make, especially if it's a sloppily written one.  The lip-sync is atrocious as well, with a lot of lines failing to match the mouth movements and obvious gaps.  It gives more of a bad Hong Kong dub vibe.  Again, Disney's dub gets the advantage here.

All in all, while Porco Rosso may not be my favorite Disney-Ghibli dub, it still surprises me to see that it has its share of detractors.  On its own, it is a well-produced, carefully written, entertaining dub that deserves to stand alongside the other English tracks Disney has done.  Not only did it help me to appreciate Porco Rosso as a movie, it entertained me, just as well as a good dub should.  If that doesn't make it a worthwhile dub, I don't know what does.  The JAL dub (only available on the Japanese DVD) is, at best, forgotten.


  1. I saw this movie for the first time yesterday. It's a good movie, but it didn't have a defining moment that pulled at my heart like the other Miyazaki films did. It's an odd complaint, but it makes sense if you put it into perspective. I also think that people will only truly appreciate this film if they like airplanes. Still, it's a funny movie in its own right, and Egan gets credit for having a naturally-sounding singing voice as Gina (not surprising, though.)

    You should go for My Neighbors the Yamadas for your next review, that movie's hilarious (if you can call it a movie, that is... >_>)

  2. Egan HAS performed as Belle in the Broadway show of Beauty and the Beast, so that she nails Gina's song is really not hard to guess.

    MY NEIGHBORS THE YAMADAS will eventually be covered, but BOY, I was totally unprepared for it! The newspaper comic strip artwork style was spot-on and I thought it was interesting that it was presented as a series of vignettes. The dub on that is just as good, but I felt that the Japanese-based humor didn't translate very well—although part of that may just be the nature of the film.

  3. To whoever it was who said the dub script is loose: I never really liked the movie in Japanese when I saw it the first time, and while I have nothing against the French version, which I spot-checked, I just can't connect with this film when I watch it in another language. And frankly, I think there's nothing wrong with PORCO ROSSO's dub at all. Sure, there are some liberties taken with the script, but I felt that it's mainly so that it would flow smoothly to audiences. It IS possible to be slavishly close and sound completely robotic and boring throughout.

  4. Thank you for FINALLY responding to this issue I thought you were never going to address it. I'll admit you do need to understand a few nuances in the Japanese language to connect with everything but don't you think they went a "little" overboard with the pig jokes. Did we really need to hear lines like "I got to pay for meals, hotel rooms, more meals...? I didn't word for word faitful, I mean even the French version had to change a few sentences here and there for their viewers to connect but it still retained the SPIRIT of the original dub, and I'm not saying Disney isn't capable of this because they can and have; Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. I felt it at times just not enough.

  5. Not at all; since I don't remember the original Japanese version very well at all, I can't tell what was different or not, but I really don't mind the pig jokes at all. To me, they add more color to the script and inject a bit more personality into it. Although, I personally had no problems with other so-called "controversial" elements, in fact, I like Phil Hartman's Jiji and the new score/dialogue from KIKI and LAPUTA (the latter especially). Yes, there may be some places where some of these extra touches may seem like a bit much, but even still, Miyazaki's world is imperishable. It doesn't matter if there are differences from the original or not; what matters is that it stands on its own as a solid dub and plays well, provided it keeps the core story intact. This is never an issue with the Disney dubs.

  6. I respect your opinion, but for that last bit we simply differ.

  7. The only time differences would ever truly be jarring is if the extra music or dialogue in question feels out of place with the context; with LAPUTA, the extra music is really not a serious problem at all, as it is, after all, Joe Hisaishi who did the new score, and frankly, Miyazaki was quite happy with it, so the "director's intention" argument is somewhat grey in this area.

    My only quibble with the LAPUTA dub was the altering of the last part of Sheeta's speech, but that was really a small price to pay for everything else the dub offered. (The Streamline version DOES keep this part of the speech intact, but the overall dub is so stilted and lifeless that even that asset can't make it any good, despite what purists may think. Disney's dub is more loose, but I'd rather listen to it simply because it flows smoother overall.)

    While some purists may not agree with some of the changes, the fact is that Ghibli and Miyazaki have to approve them. Otherwise they don't get released. It's as simple as that. And hey, the Disney dubs could be much worse. They could be WARRIORS OF THE WIND all over again!

  8. Michal Keaton is great as Porco, but I was really hoping they could recast Jean Reno to reprise that role, I mean he was perfect for that role, if you look at his performance in the French version it looked like he was really enjoying himself, indeed I always thought out of all viewers the French got the best of the deal.

  9. That old man(who Porco throws cigoretes to)sounds familuar to me. Any notable voice actor?

  10. I don't know why a lot of people think this is a lesser Miyazaki film. Personally I thought this was one of his best, just a notch bellow Princess Mononoke and My Neighbor Totoro

  11. After watching all 3 tracks I can safely conclude that the French track is still the best. Jean Reno was as spot on with his character as Mark Hamil was with his in "Castle in the Sky", he payed attention to the tiniest details, for example when he's meeting up with all of Flo's relatives watch carefully as his voice reacts to every gesture his character makes, plus his voice was just made for this kind of character. I think Sophie Deschaumes, Gina's French voice actor, is the French equivalent to Wendy Lee and Megumi Hayashibara because her voice was just perfect for this kind of role, authoritative and feminine. I have nothing against the other two tracks for I enjoyed them immensity but I think this film was just meant to be seen in French.

  12. Definitely agree about Hamill. He was awesome as Muska, and THE reason to see the dub (OK, not the ONLY reason--Cloris, everyone else and the rescore were others, and even if I didn't think the leads were perfect, they weren't bad either).

    It's good that someone can evaluate the French version of this movie. I am sorry to disappoint you, but I don't speak one word of French at all. As such, I don't consider myself worthy enough to judge voice work in that language, much less any others. (Sorry, never took a French class.) That said, it's always nice to know someone who can.