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12/8/2020 • 3 min read
When did you last watch BABE? It’s probably been a minute. It’s easy to take older films for granted, especially ones as modest and quiet as the story of a talking pig with profound sheepherding skills. Watch the movie again, however, and you’ll find an endlessly charming masterpiece that can work magic on every audience, no matter how old or jaded they might be. BABE is a perfect film. Why? Since we're showing BABE on December 20 to celebrate its 25th Anniversary, We're so glad you asked!
Let’s start with Babe himself. Voiced by master voice actor Christine Cavanaugh young Babe has the cracky, uncertain voice of an actual child. His lines are all unbearably adorable as a result, but Cavanaugh gives the character a fierce determination underneath all that cuteness. We believe Babe is real thanks to special effects. We learn to love Babe because of Christine Cavanaugh. (And if her voice sounds familiar that might be because you know her work as Chucky from "Rugrats" or Dexter from "Dexter’s Laboratory.")
It’s a testament to Farmer Hoggett’s stature as a character that actor James Cromwell got an Academy Award nomination for the role despite speaking very few lines. Nevertheless, in a mostly silent role, Cromwell creates a fully-formed character.
There's an old-fashioned dignity in his every move. We can understand how little Farmer Hoggett would think of eating Babe — he's a farmer, after all — but also quickly feel the sense of oddball logic that leads him to put Babe to work as a sheepherder against all tradition. Above all, we feel Babe’s yearning to win Hoggett’s affection and pride, which is why the film’s final line, "That’ll do pig. That’ll do." means so much and has become unexpectedly iconic.
Hoggett’s farm is a living, breathing place, thanks to the many supporting characters which roam the grounds. To succeed as a Sheep-Pig, Babe must convince both his adopted dog parents and the sheep themselves of his value. Additionally, there are Mrs. Hoggett’s evil cat (Russi Taylor), the Looney Tunes-esque duck, Ferdinand (Danny Mann), and the trio of singing mice which act as the chorus for each of the movie's dividing chapters.
And it’s not just the animals. Mrs. Hoggett (Magda Szubanski) is a whole character, too. Even the couple’s snotty children and spoiled grandkids make strong impressions in their brief bits of screentime. Not a moment of BABE is wasted on boring characters or ones that do not matter.
No, famed action auteur George Miller did not direct BABE. That honor falls to Chris Noonan and he deserves all credit for the movie's greatness. However, Miller did co-write the script with Noonan and was one of the producers. The fact that Miller went on to direct the sequel, BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, does seem to indicate a controlling hand in all BABE-related things, including this first movie. His sense of impeccable detail, not to mention the weirdness shared by all George Miller movies, is all over the production.
BABE's story moves in two parts. The first is rather dark. Babe’s initial role on Hoggett’s farm is simply to get fat and become food. He has to figure some way out of that predicament. That leads to the second story, Babe’s journey to becoming a famed sheepherder.
The film is suitable and ultimately meant for children, but the threat of death is never far away in BABE. It's a darker film than one might expect, even though it is never gratuitously so. The filmmakers simply build the charming tale upon the stark realities of farm life. Luckily everyone, even Ferdinand the Duck, makes it out okay. Things don’t get really dark until the sequel… but that's a story for another day.
All images courtesy of Universal Pictures.
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