Starring: Magda Szubanski, Elizabeth Daily, Mickey Rooney, Mary Stein, James Cromwell, Steven Wright, Adam Goldberg, Glenne Headly and Danny Mann
Written by: Judy Morris, Mark Lamprell & George Miller
Base on Characters created by: Dick King-Smith
Directed by: George Miller
Running Time: 1hr 37mins
NOMINEE – ACADEMY AWARD: Best Music, Original Song (Randy Newman)
NOMINEE – SATURN AWARD: Best Fantasy Film
“…My number 1 film of the year… and my criteria for selecting my number 1 pick has always been that film which best expresses the joy of filmmaking and expands the possibilities of what film can do and the one film that clearly fits that description this year is amazingly enough a sequel… BABE: PIG IN THE CITY… This was an easy choice for me” Gene Siskel – Siskel and Ebert At The Movies
“…in no way is it just a children’s film, but one of the most original films of the year and one of the best too.” Roger Ebert – Siskel and Ebert At The Movies
In 1995 an unexpected movie came out and surprised audiences when it captured the hearts of the world, went on to big box-office success and earned seven Academy Award nominations, taking home one win. It was a family film that was filled with talking animals and centered around one in particular, a pig named Babe. Many consider Chris Noonan’s film BABE to be one the best family films of all time, making it a little confusing as to why the sequel BABE: PIG IN THE CITY didn’t receive more attention at the box office. It’s a sequel that refuses to follow in the footsteps of so many others. It doesn’t give viewers a carbon copy of the original. It takes so much of what people loved about BABE and then, instead of just duplicating it, adds to the original’s heart and style while also giving audiences something fresh. Movie critic Roger Ebert went as far as to say that it was better than the original and I must admit that I agree. It’s a wonderful film filled with great characters, smart writing, amazing visuals and genuine emotion.
BABE: PIG IN THE CITY begins right where the first BABE left off. Farmer Hogget and his sheepherding pig have just returned home champions. A celebration is held, but one that doesn’t last. While working on the farm, Babe causes an accident that leaves Farmer Hogget badly wounded and unable to work. Though the farmer’s wife, Esme, tries to take over, it proves to be too much and eventually, the bankers come calling to foreclose. Now it’s up to Esme and Babe to save the day. She packs up their bags and they begin their trip to a far-off fair where they hope to claim an appearance fee that can be used to pay the farm’s mortgage. Unfortunately, though, while on a layover in the city, in one of the best sequences that the film has to offer, a misunderstanding finds the two stranded and this is where their adventures begin.
The title BABE: PIG IN THE CITY gives away the exact reason this sequel works so well. It would have been easy enough to give the audience more of the same by keeping everything on the farm and telling more stories from that location. After all, isn’t this how a majority of sequels are approached? Figure out what made the original so popular and just give the viewer more of that. Fortunately, director George Miller, the man behind all four MAD MAX movies, is a smarter filmmaker than that. People shouldn’t have to pay for a movie that looks and feels the same as the first film. If that were the case, then why not just rewatch the original? Miller instead decided to add to the success of the original instead of just duplicating it. To do this, Miller, along with his co-writers Judy Morris and Mark Lemprell, decided to take it to another environment, and there is no place more different to the country than the city and as different as these two locations are, so are BABE and its sequel. While staying respectful to the original, the movie adds a more grown-up feel, approaches very different themes and has a different sense of humor.
Although the tone of BABE: PIG IN THE CITY is much darker, the transition from BABE is a rather seamless one. Both maintain a fairy tale quality and some of the same characters return to join the adventure. The theme of a stranger in a strange land is also present, although not the main focus this time out. The screenwriters have instead decided to approach some stronger ideas instead – Everything from the dangers of living in the city to class relations in the real world to cruelty to animals and the homeless situation they face. This is definitely not just a by-the-books sweet and friendly family film and with its darker themes, it may be more appropriate for an older audience. The “G” rating it received may have been more appropriate as a “PG.”
The key that holds the film together is the character of Babe himself. He is still the same innocent pig with a heart of gold. He embodies the same positive and caring spirit that audiences couldn’t help but fall in love with before. Taking over the VO duties is EG Daly of RUGRATS fame and she does a great job of adding some real heart to this beloved pig who only wants to do the right thing and doesn’t understand “why” bad things happen in the world.
Some of the same characters are still present in the sequel as well. Ferdinand the Duck (Danny Mann) is still selfishly looking out for himself and is the real comic relief in the story. Of course, the movie couldn’t move forward without the return of the singing mice who read off the title cards so perfectly. The film also surrounds itself with a bevy of new supporting characters. We are introduced to Chimpanzees, dogs, cats, fish and so much more. Calling them a supporting cast, though, is a real disservice, as so many of them have their own stories and character arcs to work their way through. Each is well-developed and feels more authentic than many of the human characters in other films. From Flealick (Adam Goldberg), a dog who is paralyzed from the waist down and gets around with the help of a wheelchair, to a bull terrier (Stanley Ralph Ross) who feels like he‘s straight out of the GODFATHER movies, they all have their own individual personalities and quirks that will force viewers to fall in love with them.
We cannot forget the human characters that are present in the film as well. This is another place where the movie takes a different direction from the original. Farmer Hogget, who was so important to the earlier film, is almost immediately sidelined and it’s his wife Esme that viewers follow into the city. She is a determined woman who refuses to give up. She is played by Magna Szubanski, who is perfect in the role. Jumping in with everything she’s got, her reactions to all the craziness that surrounds her are priceless as is the fast-talking innocence which adds to the truly endearing quality of the character. Legendary actor MICKEY ROONEY is also wonderful as the understated and depressing uncle FUGLEY and Mary Stein adds some real heart to the Landlady, who is a woman with a heart of gold that runs a hotel sanctuary for all the animals that need it.
BABE: PIG IN THE CITY is also a technically ambitious movie and one of the most impressive elements is how it effectively brings the viewer into a whole new fantastical world. The production design by Roger Ford is one of the most creative and impressive in film history, probably the best since 1927’s METROPOLIS. He creates a city that belongs in a fairytale. The cityscape is filled with landmarks from cities around the globe and the architecture of the individual buildings and surrounding canals is incredibly beautiful. Combined with the way that Miller and his cinematographer Andrew Lesnie frame the images, the movie is a visual wonder. You could literally turn off the sound and just enjoy watching the images for the full length of the film.
Then there’s the nightmare that must have been involved while working around the animals. In today’s environment, this would have been done completely with CGI. Choreographing real live animals, puppets and the limited computer FX that were available at the time must have been a real challenge. A challenge that the filmmakers were definitely up to, as everything looks incredibly genuine as if real animals were performing and talking the whole time.
In my opinion, BABE: PIG IN THE CITY does everything right. In 1998, a year that saw movies like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and THE TRUMAN SHOW, popular movie reviewer Gene Siskel called it the best movie of the year. It is a sequel that refuses to be just a cash grab and tells an original, imaginative story filled with strong themes and genuine emotion. I personally believe that on a technical level, this may be one of George Miller’s best films, second only to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.
Watch BABE: PIG IN THE CITY
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