Release Date: August 4, 1995
Director: Chris Noonan
Production Company: Kennedy Miller Productions
There must be kinder dispositions in far-off gentler lands.
For a gentle barnyard comedy about a piglet who learns to herd sheep, Babe goes to some dark places and can be quite subversive. The movie begins in a factory farm and make no bones about pigs be raised without sunshine and separated from their mothers at a young age. This is a family film, nonetheless, but one that doesn’t condescend to children or avoid situations and words that they may not initially understand. I was surprised that Babe was written and produced by George Miller, the creator of the Mad Max series, but upon this rewatch I realize that there’s a tenderness at the heart of the darkness of Babe that’s not all that different from Mad Max: Fury Road, despite Babe’s more idyllic setting.
Babe (voiced by Christine Cavanaugh and played by 46 different piglets and an animatronic created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop) is the runt of the litter at a factory farm randomly chosen for a “Guess the Weight” contest at an agricultural fair. Babe ends up on the farm of Arthur Hoggett (James Cromwell) presumably to be fattened for Christmas dinner. But Babe forms a bond with the sheepdog Fly (voiced by Miriam Margolyes) who becomes his surrogate mother after her own puppies are adopted away. As a result, Babe becomes a sheep-herding pig, and one who does his job with kindness rather than asserting authority. This talent is soon recognized by the quirky Farmer Hoggett. Hijinks ensue.
The movie is beautifully filmed, soaking in the lush Australian landscape (albeit people have American accents and drive on the right side of the road, so this could be anywhere). Credit must be given to Magda Szubanski as Arthur’s wife Esme Hoggett and Russi Taylor as Duchess, “the bad cat bearing a grudge,” for being the MVPs of dialogue deliver in limited screen time. And if you can watch Cromwell’s delivery of the line “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.” without weeping, you’re made of stronger stuff than me.
This is a classic movie that just seems to get better each time I watch it.