Babe: Pig in the City (United States, 1998)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The 1995 release, Babe, scored big with audiences and critics alike, proving that a movie doesn't have to be marked with Disney's imprimatur to succeed with families. During its theatrical run, the film made almost $70 million domestically, and went on to be a popular title on video. Babe also earned a surprising seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Chris Noonan), and Best Supporting Actor (James Cromwell). With so much to laud in the original, a sequel was virtually inevitable. It has taken three years for that second installment, Babe: Pig in the City to reach screens (and, due to some late difficulties with special effects, it nearly didn't make its Thanksgiving weekend opening date). Fortunately, the result justifies the wait.

Pig in the City has a slightly darker tone than Babe, but it's by no means grim or frightening. The G-rating is still deserved; only the smallest of children will be disturbed by some of the movie's most disconcerting images. Pig in the City has been designed with the goal of recapturing the enchanting feel of the original while taking the story in new and different directions. It succeeds at both aims, standing as a worthy sequel to one of the decade's most innovative family features.

Pig in the City opens on "a place just a little to the left of the twentieth century" -- the farm of "Boss" Arthur Hoggett (James Cromwell), who has returned home triumphant with his world-renowned sheep-pig, Babe. However, Babe's time to bask in the glow of his fame is short-lived. After the farmer suffers an accident and is laid up in bed, his wife (Magda Szubanski), needing to raise money to keep the bank men at bay, takes the pig with her on a trip, hoping to get a generous appearance fee by showing up at a county fair. (Apparently, she's no longer obsessed with the thought of a pork dinner.) After missing a connecting flight, however, Mrs. Hoggett and Babe end up stranded in the unfamiliar land of the Big City, where a series of astounding adventures awaits them.

This is essentially a fractured fairy tale. The unnamed city is a fantasyland mixture of cultures, eras, and places -- a visually tantalizing display of all that is grand and intimidating about the world's largest population centers. In the city's vast canyon of buildings can be found the "Hollywood" sign, the World Trade Center, the Space Needle, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, and dozens of other famous landmarks, all nestled together. Much of the action takes place in and around a quaint, old hotel in a section of the city that looks like a romanticized slice of Venice (canals, bridges, etc.). The film is filled with images of the delightfully absurd, such as a shot of three chimpanzees and a pig strolling along a sidewalk. There's also a comic scene in a ballroom that involves a menagerie, a woman wearing inflatable pants and acting like Tarzan, and a tall, unstable pyramid of full champagne glasses.

George Miller, who co-wrote and co-produced Babe, takes over for Chris Noonan in the director's chair. The transition is relatively seamless. All the elements that made the first film successful are here -- comedy, adventure, fantasy, and a happy ending. In addition to Babe (whose voice is being provided by E.G. Daily instead of Christine Cavanaugh), a few other friendly faces have returned, including the beleaguered Ferdinand the Duck (voice of Danny Mann), and the two human actors, James Cromwell and Magda Szubanski. The two-legged newcomers are Mickey Rooney as a down-on-his-luck clown and Mary Stein as the proprietress of the hotel that offers refuge to animals. Pig in the City also boasts an impressive group of new non-human participants, including several different breeds of dogs, a cat chorus, a family of chimpanzees, and a morose orangutan. Oh, and the singing mice are back, sounding exactly like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

This Thanksgiving season is an especially rich one for family films - Pig in the City shares multiplex screens with The Wizard of Oz. Antz, and A Bug's Life. All are worth seeing, but the volume of such enjoyable family fare (added to the plodding and pointless Rugrats, which is also playing to packed houses) will likely reduce this sequel's box-office potential. Pig in the City isn't quite as good as the first film, but it's easily worth a trip to a theater, and adults who go without children in tow need not be embarrassed. The target audience is farther ranging than just grade schoolers. Because, even though the title character is adorable, Pig in the City is careful not to overdo the cuteness factor (at times, the tone seems almost gothic). The film's underlying sense of sophistication will satisfy adults, while the nearly nonstop adventure will grab kids' attention.

Babe: Pig in the City (United States, 1998)

Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: 1998-11-25
MPAA Rating: "G"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1