An enchanting, cleverly made family movie that can melt the heart of the most cynical viewers, Chris Noonan’s “Babe” brings freshness to the premise of talking animals.
The title character (Chritsine Cavanaugh) is a piglet raised for slaughter in a breeding pen. Taken to a county fair, Babe is won and taken home by a taciturn but kind farmer, Arthur Hogett (played by James Cromwell).
Lonely and ignorant of the barnyard’s social hierarchy, the piglet unconditionally befriends all of the beasts from sheepdog bitch Fly (voice of Miriam Margolyes), who becomes Babe’s surrogate mother, to the aged ewe Maa (Miriam Flynn). Gradually, Babe is accepted into his fellow animals, but the humans still plan to butcher him for Christmas dinner.
In an attempt to make himself useful and save his bacon, Babe learns to herd the farm’s unruly gang of sheep. Ultimately, his survival will depend on his performance as the sole “sheep-pig” in a prestigious sheepdog contest.
“A humorous look at the limitations and lunacy of a preordained society,” was Universal accurate press summation of the movie. There’s animal rights undertone in early scenes, and a soapy ploy about Rex, a dysfunctional dog with a dark secret. But a sense of whimsy prevails throughout the picture, and the tone is set by an irresistible chorus of Muppet mice who shrilly announce the story’s successive chapters.
The voice-over cast, refreshingly devoid of any big-time Holly stars, is good. The animatronics, done by the Jim Henson Creature Factory (with help of Aussie unit specializing in robot sheep!) blends with about 500 live animal performers.
The movie was shot in the southern highlands of New South Wales, not too far from Sydney. Since the primary crew came from Australia, it cost much less to shoot there.
Viewers who wished to know the fate of 48 juvenile oinkers used in the film
Were informed that as of March 1996, there were full-grown, 200 pounders lolling in retirement at farms, schools and homes across Australia.
Babe’s helmer, Chris Noonan, was former chair of Australian Film Commission, but unknown in the U.S. The whole Babe phenomenon came out of nowhere, as the critic Kenneth Turan pointed out in the L.A. Times: “In this age of hype and over-hype, what is sweeter than a genuine sleeper, a captivating film that dares to arrive without advance notice Babe is such an unanticipated treat.”
Kennedy Miller Productions (Australia)
Running Time: 94 minutes
Oscar Nominations: 7
Picture, produced by George Miller
Director: Chris Noonan
Supporting Actor: James Cromwell
Screenplay (Adapted): Miller, Noonan
Art Direction-Set Decoration: Roger Ford; Kerrie Brown
Film Editing: Marcus D’Arcy
Visual Effects: Scott E. Anderson, Charles Gibson, Neal Scanlan, John Cox
Oscar Awards: 1