Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

Babe: Pig in the City reviewed, 2/16/1999 (FLASHBACKS)


Last week I needed to experience something gentle. What I did was go to one of the few screenings Hermiston got of the surprising sequel, Babe: Pig in the City.

For me, it was perfect. Pig in the City is darker, scarier and sadder than the original, but emotionally true and never manipulative. And it is so creative and daring – and, yes, gentle – that I sincerely hope this movie is somehow rediscovered.

The original Babe is a wonderful film, but you knew that. It was a piece of the sun on celluloid; it was warm and luminous and funny and touching…and gentle. Babe: Pig in the City takes a much different path, but it’s headed towards the same goal: it shows the power of gentle courage, even (and especially) when things go wrong. This makes the sequel’s disastrous reception saddening; there are moments that I just know a big audience would have liked. (They would have laughed! They would have been moved!)

The movie begins with Babe the champion sheep-pig returning home, heady from the taste of fame that he got at the end of the 1995 film. But an accident caused by Babe leads to Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) getting terribly hurt. The farm quickly falls into dire financial straits, and in a last-minute effort to earn money, Mrs. Hoggett takes Babe to Metropolis (a version of almost every big city in the world).

But everything goes even more wrong, and Babe finds himself separated from “my human” and traveling with a troupe of monkeys and apes who perform with an ancient clown (played in a brief but poignant role by an almost mute Mickey Rooney).

Yes, the movie is full of tough stuff: a wrongly accused Babe, a pit bull who nearly drowns before Babe saves him, even the understated death of the broken-hearted clown. It’s the first G-rated film in years to genuinely push the envelope throughout its length, not just in the tiny nuggets of nasty business that show up in Disney cartoons amid all the cuteness. Once upon a time, writer and critic Harlan Ellison slammed the first Star Trek movie for, among other things, being rated G. “The same rating is found on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Our motto: We Take No Chances.” This movie did – its director and co-writer is George Miller of The Road Warrior, after all – and it got vilified. I’m sorry, Pig in the City is the wrong target for scorn. Most of the people who attacked it for being mean, I’m convinced, just didn’t see it.

Babe stays Babe in this film, in case you were worried; it’s not as if he turns into Quentin Tarantino’s Mr. Pink. (I apologize; that’s a bad joke.) He has “a kind and steady heart” at the beginning, and still has it at the end; after all, psychologically speaking, you remain you, so to speak.

Babe’s gentleness is felt strongly in the music. The theme for Babe is a lovely melody from Symphony No. 3 by Camille Saint-Saens, who wrote Carnival of the Animals. On both films, composer Nigel Westlake has woven together that and other melodies (from classical to classic songs), and here Westlake’s music usually plays through the action in a very restrained manner.

Even the sound effects of Pig in the City are sparing, more an impression of sound than anything. It’s hard to describe, but it makes for a more poignant film.

And these images stayed with me:

Two skywriters heralding Babe’s triumphant return at the beginning by spelling out “HAM,” then adding two letters to make it “CHAMP”…

…Babe snuggling up to the hand of the bedridden Farmer Hoggett, wishing the farmer could hear him apologize…

…the storm clouds that mass as two men from the bank come to close the Hoggett farm…

…the human cartoons the filmmakers found to star in the movie, including two gentle men who look uncannily like pigs…

…a regal orangutan named Thelonious, first seen through a beaded curtain then later climbing up to a glowing stained-glass window to mourn the death of the clown…

…a dog, so arthritic he uses wheels to move around, having a brief dream where he bounds freely across a field…

…the immense human bustle of Metropolis (very multicultural, too – there was even a mermaid!)…

…Babe’s frantic friend Ferdinand the Duck hilariously ducking for cover (sorry) when he lands at the Metropolis Gun Club…

…two newborn chimps cradled by their mother in front of a fire as a hotel’s worth of animals looks on…

…the pit bull trying to train his half-pit bull, half-poodle puppies…

…and in a wonderfully poignant moment, Thelonious standing his ground against a policeman, holding his goldfish bowl protectively.

Is this movie scary? Yes. Is it sad? Often. Is it funny? Quite. Is it traumatizing? Well, there was a little girl in the audience, and as the credits rolled, she said loudly, “That was so cute!”

She didn’t seem too traumatized by the thing.
Tags: film reviews, flashbacks
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