In 1995, Babe, an Australian film based on a much loved children’s book about a pig who escapes his farmyard destiny as bacon to become a champion sheep herder, not only became a surprise hit, earning a quarter of a billion dollars worldwide, it notched up 7 Oscar nominations too. One of the most delightful family films ever made, Babe was co-written and produced by Mad Max’s George Miller and, three years later, he wrote and directed the sequel himself. Most critics hated it, despite a few champions hailing it as a masterpiece, and the public stayed away in droves. Twenty years later, is this the misunderstood work of genius some suggest or a right pig’s ear?
Fair play to George Miller. In creating the sequel to such a beloved family film, he certainly didn’t take the easy option. What could have been a straight-forward, easy on the audience crowd pleasing follow up, is perhaps one of the most original and bizarre films of Miller’s career. And that’s saying something!
The plot follows Babe and Mrs. Hoggett as they travel to the big city in an attempt to stave off losing the farm by winning another sheep trial (farmer Hoggett having been injured in an accident). Things go wrong though and the pair find themselves stranded, ending up in a hotel which is also a safe haven for animals such as a family of chimps, a dandy but bitter orangutan plus a choir of cats and sundry dogs. The plot conspires to get rid of the humans for most of the last half of the film, leaving Babe to come to the rescue of the city’s strays, showing kindness and compassion to the unwanted beasts whilst also mounting a rescue of them once the creatures are impounded. It all ends satisfyingly once Mrs. Hoggett and Babe are reunited. Once again, the mice provide a witty chorus.
Rarely has a film so seemingly aimed at a family audience been so, well, odd. It’s dark, mixing slapstick humour with moments of cruelty. It’s sad, the collection of unwanted animals tugging at the heartstrings but finding camaraderie through the gentle pig. It’s sophisticated as well as silly. At times it verges on the profound.
And that’s because, at it’s heart, this film about a bunch of misfit animals could be said to be an allegory about the plight of refugees.
What’s more, it looks amazing, the city being a composite of all cities. When Babe looks out of his round window his view takes in the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hollywood sign, Eiffel Tower… The animal effects are astounding, and some of the characters (the best being an English Bull Terrier and a pink poodle based on Blanche Dubois) are joyous and the imagination and creativity on show is astounding.
But be warned, if you’re expecting something like the first film, Babe, Pig in the City is a different beast.
BABE: PIG IN THE CITY (1998) / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: GEORGE MILLER / SCREENPLAY: GEORGE MILLER, JUDY MORRIS, MARK LAMPRELL / STARRING: MAGDA SZUBANSKI, ELIZABETH DAILY, MARY STEIN, JAMES CROMWELL, MICKEY ROONEY / RELEASE DATE: 19TH JUNE