Thursday 5 December 2019

Movie Review: Babe (1995)

A humourous animal drama oriented to children, Babe contains some simple life lessons in an attractive and easily accessible package featuring cute talking farm critters.

Sheep farmer Arthur Hoggett (James Cromwell) wins the young orphaned pig Babe (voice of Christine Cavanaugh) by guessing its weight at the state fair. The pig arrives at Hogget's farm and befriends the sheepdog Fly (Miriam Margolyes), although fellow sheepdog Rex (Hugo Weaving) is less hospitable. Babe also tangles with the troublesome duck Ferdinand (Danny Mann) and entitled house cat Duchess (Russi Taylor).

Babe settles in to life at the farm and gradually displays an aptitude for sheepdog duties, adopting a gentler approach to guiding the flock and establishing a connection with elderly sheep Maa (Miriam Flynn). But with Rex growing more resentful, wild dogs attacking the sheep and Hoggett starting to think of entering Babe into a sheepdog competition, plenty of challenges lie ahead for the little pig.

A gentle story of belonging, Babe is a modern day fairytale. Co-produced by George Miller and directed by Chris Noonan, the Australian production cleverly deploys special effects to add speech and choreographed movements to the world of cute animals. The often adorable farm creatures only talk to each other, leaving the oblivious humans in their own sheltered domain.

So we learn dogs think sheep are inherently stupid, the sheep think all dogs are dangerous wolves, the duck knows it's at greatest risk of becoming dinner and therefore takes on rooster duties to try and serve some useful function. Meanwhile, the house cat is well, just luxuriating in entitlement. The cows and horses here are reduced to background extras contributing some wisecracks, while the annoying mice animate the chapter introduction title cards.

Through it all the innocent but curious and brave young Babe is the orphan who has to carve an identity and a purpose in foreign surroundings. He gets help from the sympathetic Fly, who believes Babe can learn to fit in on the farm, and encourages his ventures into sheepdog duties. Rex is much more hostile and insistent a pig should not be trusted with a dog's duties.

Meanwhile Hoggett is the one main human character, a resourceful farmer of few words who spots opportunity where others only see turmoil. Hoggett establishes an early connection of trust and belief in Babe and can see beyond superficialities to focus on abilities, even risking humiliation to draw out the pig's potential.

Frequent touches of humour and brief scenes of danger maintain the required balance for younger audiences. Babe is tender, innocent and approachable, breathing from the genuine air of farm-inspired learnings.

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