Rixflix A to Z: Babe: Pig In the City (1998)

Director/Co-Writer: George Miller // Kennedy-Miller & Universal; 1:37; color
Crew Notables: Dick King-Smith (characters); Paddy Moloney (song); Randy Newman (song, AAN) & Peter Gabriel (vocals)
Cast Notables: James Cromwell, Magda Szubanski, Mickey Rooney; Voices: Elizabeth Daily, Glenne Headly, Steven Wright, Adam Goldberg, Miriam Margolyes, Hugo Weaving, Roscoe Lee Browne (narrator), Naomi Watts, Jim Cummings
Cinema 4 Rating: 6

I'm not sure, but this might be the first G-rated film that mentions the phrase "serial killer" in it. It's a reference that Ferdinand the duck makes regarding the rather plump Mrs. Hoggett and her smooth way of doing away with any number of his relatives for dinner, but it's probably more indicative of the maturation of the Babe franchise itself. The pig indeed goes to the Big City, and he finds out quickly that he has to grow up just a little bit, and so its no surprise that the film gets a slightly harder edge to it. The city, while a wonderful-looking conglomeration of just about every famous building or type of structure in the world, is not the friendliest of jungles, and Babe (along with a flustered Mrs. Hoggett) learns this lesson fast and hard.

Unfortunately, this maturation process doesn't quite jibe with the fairytale-like presentation that leaps over from the first go-around, even if the film itself is a gorgeous construct to behold. The special effects work combining puppetry, live-action animals and animation is nearly seamless (except for when the baby chimp twins arrive), but the film is definitely lacking in the story area. Babe is presented as a "pig-on-a-mission" to save the Hoggett farm after Mr. Hoggett is seriously injured in an Babe-caused accident, and when the purpose of his trip to the city (to collect a large appearance fee for showing his skills as a "sheep-pig" at a huge fair) goes south due to their being delayed, this "mission" seems to get lost in a cavalcade of characters, most of whom serve little purpose except to confuse the issue. Yes, Babe becomes the lord of the city's animal population and his sheer good nature and dumb luck with lead to the inevitable saving of the farm (c'mon, is there any doubt that he will?), but the sharp little guy seems to get lost, along with some of his initial charm, in action sequences that really seem out of place with the original film.

Part of this might be due to the fact that the co-screenwriter/producer from the first film steps in to direct this one, and his pedigree might hold a clue to this change, for he is none other than George Miller, the maestro of the Mad Max series. While I admire his work on at least the first two of those films (and some of the third), his sure eye for frantic, nervy action seems misplaced with the gentle Babe. It does have one benefit, I suppose: in several places, so edgy is the unnecessary action, that I feel any one of the animals could get hit with a Mack truck at any given moment. And there aren't even Mack Trucks in those sequences. Just over the rise and --- BAM!! Just like in Max Max II. And those three main action sequences -- the bull terrier-chase, the roundup of the hotel animals, and the ballroom bounce finale -- go on far beyond my interest in any of them, and the film could have easily been cut down by ten minutes through the use of some freewheeling editing of these scenes. The bounce sequence itself is merely an updated version of the Thunderdome battle that Miller failed to thrill me with over a decade earlier. So, why bring it back to bore us again?

Through all of this insanity, outside of his heroic saving of the bull terrier, Babe turns from a pig trying desperately to think of a way to save his beloved farm and humans, to basically being a pig who is in the right place at the right time. Whereas in the original film, Babe learned he had a skill and used it to become famous, here he just has to hang out with his newly acquired friends, and through some extremely convoluted circumstances, good fortune will come his way. It's the lazy pig's road to success, and for me it proves that Babe never really had to be the self-starter that he was when he began his career as man's best pig friend.

He just had to sit around, blowing his cash on Lotto tickets, and hoping for that one big break. Now that I think about it, I suppose this won't do the general public any harm. They are already there, though I doubt Babe would lie about stuffing his mouth with pork rinds...

1999 Academy Awards: Nominee, Best Song

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