Screenplay : George Miller and Chris Noonan (based on the book by Dick King Smith)
MPAA Rating : G
Year of Release : 1995
Stars : Christine Cavanaugh (Voice of Babe), Miriam Margolyes (Voice of Fly), Danny Mann (Voice of Ferdinand), Hugo Weaving (Voice of Rex), James Cromwell (Farmer Hoggett), Magda Szubanski(Mrs. Hoggett)
There are few films that I would describe as being truly magical, and "Babe" is certainly one of them. The simple story of a pig who wanted to be more than others would give him credit for is such a touching, entertaining and magical fable that I thought it deserved the Best Picture Oscar for 1995. Not many films manage to transcend their genre, but "Babe" comes across as much more than a simplistic children's film.
All aspects of the movie are top-notch, especially the digital and animatronic effects used to bring the animals to life. Never once while I was watching the film did I doubt that these animals were really talking to each other. Imagining the long hours director Chris Noonan spent with these animals, waiting for just the right look or trying to capture the perfect movement, is enough to give me a headache. Yet, for all his hard work, he was rewarded with a completely convincing portrait that had previously resided only in books and animated movies.
The story revolves around Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) and his sheep ranch. The ranch is populated by a cast of characters including Ferdinand the duck, who attempts to take over the rooster's position because he fears he will become Christmas dinner; Fly the mother sheep dog who takes Babe in and shows him the ropes; Rex the father sheep dog who is immediately jealous of Babe's presence; and Ma, a wise old female sheep. And, of course, there's Babe himself, who is so immediately likable in his honest naivete that you find yourself rooting for him to the end.
The film is basically a parable teaching us not to stick people in stereotypes and classes. The ranch is staunchly segregated, with each animal destined to a certain end. The sheep give wool, the dogs do the herding, the cows give milk, the hens lay eggs, the rooster crows in the morning, and even the wily cat smugly proclaims her duty of showing affection to Farmer Hoggett's wife (Magda Szubanski).
Babe quickly realizes that he doesn't belong anywhere, so he seeks to find worth in himself, namely in herding sheep. Of course, herding sheep isn't a pig's job, and all the other animals chide him for it. Babe is a failure at first, until he realizes that he can't herd sheep the way the dogs do. So, instead of biting and barking and insulting them, he gives into the radical idea of politely asking them to go into the pen, a move that yields astonishing results.
All of this is punctuated again and again with moments of pure charm. Babe sneaking into the farmer's house to steal an alarm clock which threatens to put Ferdinand out of business, Farmer Hoggett dancing a jig in his living room to cheer the pig up, and a trio of mice singing "Blue Moon" are all perfectly executed sequences that are utterly delightful.
Somewhere someone must have written that a film must be heavy-handed to be a critical success. Not so. "Babe" shows that a film can be both marvelously entertaining in almost childish manner, as well as illuminating. I would venture to say that if more people in this country acted like Babe, the world would be a better place to live in.
©1997 James Kendrick