The Birthday Series – Babe (1995)
They don’t really make live action children’s films that often anymore. Since ‘Toy Story’ was released in 1995, the balance has shifted almost entirely in the direction of animation. That’s a mighty shame when it means
we kids are missing out on new, wonderful movies like ‘Babe’.
As a piglet, Babe (Chistine Cavanagh) watches as his mother is taken away to ‘Pig Paradise’. Avoiding a similar fate, he is selected (as the runt) to be the prize in a ‘Guess the Weight’ contest at the local fair. Farmer Arthur Hoggett (James Cromwell) guesses the pigs weight correctly, and Babe is taken to his farm, where he will grow fat and plump and end up on the dinner table. But Babe soon ingratiates himself with many of the locals, finding a surrogate mother in a Border Collie named Fly (Miriam Margolyes) and befriending Maa (Miriam Flynn), an elder sheep, and Ferdinand (Danny Mann), a duck who is attempting to position himself as the farms Rooster in order raise his lowly status and avoid a Christmas dinner swansong.
Much to the befuddlement of Arthurs wife, Esmé (Magda Szubanski), Arthur begins to treat Babe like one of his sheepdogs. Babe, trying an entirely different tact than Rex (Hugo Weaving), the surly, hard of hearing Border Collie, he charms the sheep with his politeness and good nature. The results are spectacular. So spectacular that Arthur enters into the local annual sheepdog trial, with Babe as his sheepdog. Can Babe save the farmer from humiliation and win the contest?
Quite simply, ‘Babe’ is utterly charming. Despite it’s simple narrative, it does what few children’s films are willing to do, and it touches on subjects such as death right from the start. It’s a subtly dark tale at times, which gives it greater depth and separates it from the usual pandering children’s film. The film also has wonderful themes about compassion, heart and staying true to yourself. Babe is a moral compass for many of the other characters, and his courage and willingness to stand up for others eventually wins over everyone, even Rex.
‘Babe’ is a bit disarming in the way it sneakily involves you. I consider myself to be a bit of a cynic when it comes to “heartwarming” films, but it didn’t take long for the film to have me cheering on Babe, and booing his enemies, such as that sneaky, lying, hateful cat, Duchess. Not literally cheering and booing of course, but the film had me smiling all the way through. And the film is very witty, and it’s characters are very funny. Ferdinand the Duck is classically neurotic, and a trio of singing mice which serenade the audience and introduce each chapters title card as they appear are very amusing.
All the voice actors are terrific, and Cromwell and Szubanski are excellent as well. Cromwell was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, which he lost to Kevin Spacey’s Keyser Söze (was that a supporting role?). It might have been a bit much to nominate Cromwell, but in a year where others such as Brad Pitt (who was also nominated for ’12 Monkeys’), Kathleen Quinlan (for ‘Apollo 13’), and Mira Sorvino won for ‘Mighty Aphrodite’, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
Based on the novel ‘The Sheep Pig’ by Dick King-Smith, and brilliantly adapted by George Miller and director Chris Noonan, ‘Babe’ is also technically brilliant. When the animals talk, their mouths move as well. Using a combination of computer generated effects and animatronics, courtesy of Jim Hensons Creature Shop, it’s flawless. For the first five or ten minutes at the beginning of the film I found myself entranced by the animals mouths, just watching the way they moved in perfect synch with the dialogue, but as the film won me over I stopped noticing the effects and got involved in the story.
Extraordinary patience must have gone into the making of this film. Some of the shots that Miller and Noonan have achieved are amazing. I know dogs can be trained to do almost anything, but can pigs or ducks be trained in the same way? ‘Babe’ was nominated for seven Academy Awards in all, winning only one, beating ‘Apollo 13’ (the only other nominee) for Bests Visual Effects. But in a year when ‘Braveheart’ beat out ‘Apollo 13’, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, ‘Il Postino’ (which I haven’t seen admittedly), and ‘Babe’ for Best Picture, it’s not too far of a stretch to say that this film should’ve ended up with the top prize. It may have not been the best film of 1995 (‘Heat’ received a grand total of ZERO nominations), but in my opinion, it’s the best film of that group.
This has been a “delightful” birthday party. LA LA LAAAH!!!
For Droids a jolly good fellow!