Babe (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

At first glance, a movie about the adventures of a piglet who thinks he's a sheepdog doesn't appear to be the perfect entertainment recipe for those beyond puberty. However, through a mixture of imaginative storytelling, impressive animatronics, and irresistible cuteness, Babe casts a spell over all viewers -- young, old, or somewhere in between.

Babe is a small pig whose parents have gone to hog heaven. Abducted from the pork penitentiary, he ends up as the lone representative of his kind on the property of Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell), a kindly man of few words who knows far more about sheep than pigs. On the farm, Babe makes a few enemies, but many more friends, including a talkative duck who wants to be a rooster and a dog willing to play the role of substitute mother. Unfortunately, one of those not in the pig's corner is Mrs. Hoggett (Magda Szubanski), who has visions of a roast pork Christmas dinner dancing in her head.

Babe is a new twist on the traditional story of the underachiever attaining greatness. It's a buddy film, about a man and his best friend (who, in this case, happens to be pink), and an adventure-comedy. Above all, it teaches the lesson of how easy it is to fall back on "comfortable" prejudices. Babe triumphs because his first thought is always of bridging gaps, not building walls. Unlike in George Orwell's Animal Farm, here the pig is the instrument of unity and mediation.

Babe's greatest asset (besides the pig) is director Chris Noonan, who finds the right tone for this modern fable. Most animal movies come across as unbelievably cloying or simply unbelievable, but Noonan makes his picture work. Aside from The Bear, there aren't many films that can boast this distinction. And, by using the talents of the men and women of Jim Henson's workshop, Noonan has assured that when the animals' lips move, they don't look like Mr. Ed.

Babe has been getting a lot of raves, and deservedly so. This is a fun movie to sit through. Despite the presence of so many animals -- cats, dogs, horses, cows, ducks, roosters, sheep, and a pig -- the "cuteness factor" is kept carefully in check. Of course Babe is adorable, but we're not subjected to the countless smarmy bonding scenes that too-often infect this sort of picture. Thought was put into the adaptation of Dick King-Smith's book. Even the narrative voiceovers, laced with subtle irony and understated revelations, are effective in this context. If there's a non-Disney family film that's going to break through the barrier of economic success, Babe could be it. It's certainly merits the distinction.

Babe (United States, 1995)

Run Time: 1:29
U.S. Release Date: 1995-08-04
MPAA Rating: "G"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1