(1995, Chris Noonan)
“That’ll do pig, that’ll do”
So last Christmas, I reviewed It’s A Wonderful Life as it’s a typical festive favourite with a strong Christmas slant. However, due to the limited number of Christmas movies on the MYMSBYD list, I have to be a little more imaginative this year.
So, what to do? It’s got to be a family film, surely. A nice, happy film too, since I can’t really go reviewing the likes of Dancer In The Dark on the happiest day of the year (I save it for five days before instead!). Maybe one which vaguely references Christmas for extra bonus points. One film immediately jumped out at me – Babe. It’s a family film, and it has Christmas as a central plot point. Perfect. But is it any good?
Babe tells the story of a little pig (voiced by Christine Cavanaugh) who is taken from a factory farm after his mother is sent to be turned into bacon (I swear it is a happy film!). He ends up being won in a farmer’s market competition by Arthur Hoggett (James Cromwell), a dignified and respected farmer. After some time on the farm in the company of sheepdogs Fly (v/b Miriam Margoyles) and Rex (v/b Hugo Weaving), Babe discovers a knack for shepherding and realises this can save him from becoming food further down the line.
I vaguely remember watching the movie as a kid and enjoying it back then, but sometimes nostalgia can blind you to the real quality of a film. However, I can safely state that my love of the movie as a child was justified. Babe is a strange but loveable little movie.
Let’s talk about why it’s a good movie to sit the kids down with this Christmas. First off, the main cast, who are of course the animals, not the humans. They are impressive for two reasons. First off, their characterisation is simple without being overtly clichéd or patronising. Sure, in many cases, they do fit traditional roles expected of those animals in fiction – dogs are noble and loyal workers, cats are snooty and bitchy, sheep are generally a bit slow – but the execution is particularly effective. It helps that there are occasions that, true to the film’s central message, these expected roles are called into question through the intervention of the strange little pig that thinks he’s a dog.
They’re also impressively acted, especially impressive since they’re all real animals with some occasional puppetry and digital lip synching to back them up. The animal trainers on this movie deserve massive amounts of praise, while the digital effects team did an excellent job on the lip synching, making the animals’ mouths move convincingly to the voice work.
But there were just plenty of times where it’s easy to feel an emotional connection to these creatures that don’t really demonstrate facial expressions. When Fly’s pups are sold off, it’s heart-breaking to see her reaction, and I admit this as a cynical movie reviewer. The voice work is also phenomenal, especially from Margoyles and Weaving as the sheepdogs, which adds to the effect. While on the subject, I also need to point out how good it is to see a movie where most of the voices are done by professional voice actors, something rarely seen in today’s world of animated movies where every voice is a celebrity that can be placed on a poster rather than someone who is good at doing silly voices.
The story is fairly simple, and has a strong message to teach children about the acceptance of those who are different, but the message isn’t pushed onto the audience in a particularly over the top way. It’s there, and it’s clear, but it’s effectively weaved into the storyline rather than something that gets in the way.
There are some issues with Babe (yes, it’s Christmas, but I must). The plot is a little silly and unrealistic, especially since much of it hinges on Farmer Hoggett being a little nutty and thinking that having a pig that herds sheep is a good idea. I was also bothered by the fact that the movie seemed to be set in rural England, but numerous background characters seemed to have American accents.
But ultimately, I loved Babe and think it’s a highly respectable kids’ movie that is worth a watch, especially over the festive period.
Starring James Cromwell & Magda Szubanski, and the voices of Christine Cavanaugh, Miriam Margolyes, Hugo Weaving, Miriam Flynn, Danny Mann & Russi Taylor
Written by Dick King-Smith (book), George Miller & Chris Noonan
Produced by Bill & George Miller and Doug Mitchell
Music by Nigel Westlake
Cinematography by Andrew Lesnie
Edited by Marcus D’Arcy & Jay Friedkin
Favourite Scene: The final shepherding sequence is entertaining, even if it is incredibly silly
Scene That Bugged Me: At one point, Hoggett thinks that Babe has killed a sheep and plans to put him down. Let me reiterate. A highly respected FARMER thinks that a PIGLET has killed a SHEEP. There’s suspension of disbelief, and there’s buying that.
Watch it if: You’re looking for a fun animal movie for kids
Avoid it if: You like ultra realism