"Babe: Pig In The City" Talkback (Spoilers)

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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Babe: Pig In The City

This sequel to Babe was a pretty big-budget affair, considering it was a follow-up to a surprise sleeper hit that didn't exactly cost a mint to produce. The sequel wound up a box office failure, simply because it would have had to have been an absolute smash hit to recoup its large investments. People saw it, but not at the numbers it would need to make a profit.

However there are many fans of the original film who swear by the sequel's quality, and it's gotten a bit of a reputation as an underappreciated cult favorite. Andrew from Buffy The Vampire Slayer famous called it "a very underrated film." Do I agree with the film's many boosters, speaking as someone who absolutely loved the first?

Sorry, I do not. The film has a LOT of problems, and I'm think if it weren't so damn ambitious, those problems wouldn't even be present. Does the city Babe runs around in at night NEED to be as stylized as Tim Burton's Gotham City? Genre director George Miller (who produced but didn't direct the first film) thinks so. I don't agree.

Let me also state right now that this is not a BAD film. It is a perfectly passable film for families. I am going to be giving it a very respectable (for me) three stars out of five, that it has earned quite honestly. But while it may be nice for kids, for me, it lost a great deal of the magic of the first (for the most part).

Let's start out with the fact that the main human character isn't Farmer Hoggett. This was the biggest mistake the movie could have possibly made. James Cromwell was a revelation in the role in the first film, and him being sidelined for Esme for almost the entire film is not great. Cromwell is actually second-billed in the credits here (Cromwell must share agents with Mark Hamill), but his appearances at the beginning and end actually amount to mere cameos. Esme was never solid character in the first film. She was too comical. And sadly Miller pushes her too far in that direction by putting her in a lot of embarrassing slapstick situations where the audience is invited to see the fat woman fall down and split her pants. I'm not saying Babe 1 will ever be confused for Beatrix Potter, The Velveteen Rabbit, or The Wind In The Willows. It wasn't the classiest movie for kids ever (Babe immediately peeing on Farmer Hoggett says that first movie is not actually proud) but it certainly was never as comedically lowbrow as this.

There was also a reality to how the humans and animals interacted in the first movie. The idea that the chimps are putting up numbers for mugshots in the pound here says Miller is no longer interested in the level of credibility the franchise used to have.

My other objection is the fact that the clown played by Mickey Rooney is a clear villain, as are the people who take the animals to the pound, and the chef who steals Babe at the end. Again, this is fine for an average family film, but I liked the first movie because the actual drama and conflict was between characters trying to navigate their place on the farm with this very weirdly ethical baby pig questioning everything. The drama being from within and among the characters to work out themselves is something I found totally refreshing for a kids movies. These types of villains here could have been created by Disney in a poor 1970's live-action film. They are probably not as embarrassing as the bad guys from Pete's Dragon or The Apple-Dumpling Gang. But that shouldn't actuallly be the bar.

Also, the resolution is disappointing from a narrative standpoint. Yes, Esme and the animal hotel women selling the hotel and moving the animals to the farm is a practical and logical solution. But it's not a satisfying one. It means the movie doesn't deliver on its promise of Babe having to save the farm in the big city. Worse, because Esme and the hotel woman are present in the finale, it can be argued THEY rescued the animals instead of Babe. As far as the hero of the movie goes, the resolution gives very little credit to Babe himself, which is wrong.

I'll say this though. There are moments in the film where the heart and soul of the first movie is present. They are few and far between, but they DO exist. When the Pitbull is chasing Babe in a starting-to-get-tedious, ridiculously-lengthy scene, Babe turns around in frustration and desperation and finally asks his famous question: "Why?". And the Pitbull nearly drowns shortly afterwards. Until Babe saves his life. Suddenly, as far as the Pitbull is concerned, the other animals answer exclusively to The Pig from now on. Or else. "Thank The Pig," is the Pitbull's most memorable line. And Babe even saves the freaking goldfish, and helps free the animals at the pound (who all go to live on Hoggett's farm) so he was right to give Babe the credibility he does. Babe's greatest skill and virtue is making friends. He really had very little to gain by saving the Pitbull, but since he did, he gained anyways. Which is a nice message for kids.

I forgot to mention this in the first film's review, but Russi Taylor is miscredited in the first movie as "Russie Taylor". They got her name right here.

Like the chase in the city with the Pitbull, the slapstick climax of Esme bouncing around the fancy auditorium in a clown balloon suit goes on for way too long. And like the rest of the fat-shaming jokes for Esme, it's far more embarrassing than her actress deserves to endure.

I like the orangutan Thelonious. He was very expressive. But the cool thing is he was laconic too, so you never really knew what he was thinking, or even if he was good or bad. I thought he was one of the few new characters who was actually cool.

All in all, I was disappointed. I am not as impressed with the darker themes and motifs as many of this film's fans are. It's a good family film. Is it a good film, period? I don't personally think so. If I were a kid, I'd love it. But when I was a kid, I loved Candleshoe and The Goonies. As I said, that sort of thing shouldn't be the bar. It's just all right. ***.
 

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