BABE: PIG IN THE CITY

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-By David Luty


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Babe is a modest miracle of a character, a child's (and adult's) hero utterly without irony or attitude. You won't hear any wisecracks coming out of Babe's mouth, because Babe would never want to risk hurting another's feelings. The kindhearted, timidly self-determined Babe is a magnificent role model for children and adults alike, and the fact that we're talking about a pig is of negligible consequence. In fact, that works as a benefit. Along with the other featured characters in these movies, Babe is played by a living animal that moves its computer-generated mouth in synch with a human voice, and since the mouth is the only part of the body manipulated, this means no facial expressions. And that means Babe is a pig without an ounce of ham, with none of the preciousness and emotive mugging that would inevitably come from a child actor or an animated animal playing the part. The pig's imperturbable face, combined with a voice of childlike wonder, gives the sincerity and innocence a purity that wouldn't otherwise be. Babe is the type of hero who will interrupt a vicious pursuer to ask 'Why?', and expect an answer.

As lovable as this character is, after the delicate, lightning-in-a-bottle perfection of the original Babe, the urge to sequelize it seems ill-advised. But George Miller, who co-wrote and co-produced the original and now also directs Babe: Pig in the City, has made a different sort of Babe movie, with key elements left intact. Along with the implacably gentle pig is the wise, steadfast refusal to place these characters in anything resembling the real world. With the help of returning production designer Roger Ford, Babe's universe is located firmly in the textures of a storybook. This sequel takes place predominantly in the city, but the houses and buildings still look as if they're made of gingerbread.

Outside of the setting and a few of the characters (Farmer Hoggett in a smaller role, the irascible duck Ferdinand, the gleefully singing mice), this movie is a horse of a different color. Babe: Pig in the City trades off on some of the original's quiet charm for a decidedly more antic spirit. This time, Babe works to help an abandoned band of circus-performing animals while also trying to reunite with Mrs. Hoggett (Magda Szubanski), who has been separated from her husband's cherished pig during a big-city sojourn. Punctuating the rescue attempts and personality clashes between species (which include other humans, a wide variety of cats and dogs, and, most prominently, primates) are a series of elaborately staged pratfalls and chase scenes that, in addition to being fueled by a lively visual imagination of abundant energy, are always fun and in keeping with this world's off-kilter logic. Credit Miller and fellow writers Judy Morris and Mark Lamprell, who have focused their imagination predominantly on their characters, supplying them with an abundance of richly funny, sometimes even sophisticated personality. And grounding all the mayhem in emotional priority is the little pig that could, who, with the utmost of humility and grace, humanizes them all.

--David Luty


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