movie film review | chris tookey


Kennedy Miller Productions - all rights reserved
  Babe   Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
8.67 /10
Farmer Hoggett ........ James Cromwell , Mrs. Hoggett .......... Magda Szubanski, Narrator .............. Roscoe Lee Browne
Full Cast >

Written by: Chris Noonan, George Miller . Based on The Sheep-Pig, by Dick King-Smith.

Released: 1995
Origin: Australia
Colour: C
Length: 92

A young pig is won at a fair by lean, lanky Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) and brought up by a friendly family of border collies. Nurture prevails over nature, and our hero develops an unlikely aptitude for herding sheep, which he does with a charm and courtesy far beyond the average canine. Not surprisingly, this puts the head sheepdog's nose out of, if you'll pardon the expression, joint. Babe is game for anything, but falls into the kind of company that is, if anything, rasher. The farmyard's equivalent to the Artful Dodger is a duck so cocky he welcomes each daybreak by crowing. He is also a Luddite - regarding the farmer's new alarm-clock as the unacceptable face of modern technology, a "mechanical rooster". The duck's attempt at sabotage very nearly ensures that he finishes up a l'orange, and his porcine accomplice cashes in his chops. However, Babe's resourcefulness ends up saving not just his own bacon but everyone else's, and a series of further adventures climax in a triumphant, widescreen version of One Man and His Hog.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

Bookmark and Share

The hero of this movie may be a little swine, but he's more sympathetic than most leading actors, and a lot less hammy. He is also the most lovable orphan to hit the pictures since Oliver Twist. True, he's a pig - but a pig of rare character and breeding, with the cutest toupee since Sean Connery's in Never Say Never Again.

Babe is one of those movies which sets out with a determination to make you laugh and cry, and it could easily have been too cute for comfort. One of its many marvels is that it neatly avoids Disneyesque sentimentality and has an engaging sense of the absurd. Particularly funny are the fieldmice who act as a kind of Greek chorus, and fill in when nothing much else is happening with three-part-harmony variations on Blue Moon.

Just as magically, the script combines the lightness of touch you expect from classics by A.A. Milne or Kenneth Grahame, with the toughness of George Orwell's Animal Farm. Death, inter-species rivalry and the fear of being slaughtered for food are never far away. One of the sweetest moments comes as Babe celebrates Christmas with a joyful rendition of Jingle Bells, blithely unaware that the farmer's wife has him earmarked for Christmas lunch as entree.

It's a timeless tale, but the technology that created it is very much of the Nineties. The Australian film-makers daringly use a mixture of real and animatronic animals (from Jim Henson's and John Cox's workshops in London and Queensland) - with such skill that it's impossible to distinguish the real from the artificial. The visual effects won the film's lone Oscar.

Animal trainer Karl Lewis Miller (who trained the St Bernards for Beethoven) does terrific work as well - Babe himself is played by 48 different piglets, but you'd never know.

Documentary-maker Chris Noonan's first feature as writer-director is amazingly expert. He and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie use an ingenious array of filters and camera angles to create a totally original look. The sequence where the farmer dances a jig to cheer up his ailing pig is as weird and wonderful as anything dreamed up by Terry Gilliam for Brazil, or Jeunet and Caro for Delicatessen.

The whole film is gorgeous to look at, taking place in a golden, glowing Neverland (actually Australia, but it could be anywhere) where modern fax machines exist alongside old-fashioned farming methods.

Noonan's experienced producer and co-writer George Miller has been responsible for enjoyable movies in many different genres - from Mad Max to Flirting and Lorenzo's Oil - and he approaches his first family film without a hint of patronising the audience.

The latest in computer animation means that the animals' mouths move in perfect synch, and equally impeccable casting ensures that they speak with hilariously appropriate voices. The human actors (especially James Cromwell and Magda Szubanski as Farmer and Mrs Hoggett) couldn't be better, and are all the more refreshing for having unfamiliar faces.

The film shines with an obvious affection for animals, nostalgia for mixed farming, and distaste for factory food-production, but this is no animal-rights tract. Instead, it has a delightful and unfashionable message. Babe is lovable not only because he is the kind of underhog who dares to be unconventional, but also because he is unfailingly polite and considerate to every animal he meets. This was the first movie in years to celebrate courtesy.

Babe is so talented and imaginative that it's beyond criticism, and magical whether you're three or ninety-three. Ebernezer Scrooge at his grumpiest could be dragged into the cinema to watch Babe and would emerge with a soppy grin, cheerfully acknowledging this to be among the most charm-laden, uplifting movies ever made.

Roger Ford's production design and the editing of Marcus D' Arcy and Jay Friedkin were Oscar-nomionated.

Key to Symbols