It has been over a quarter century since Babe was released August 1995 but the film remains one of the year’s best pictures.
The basic gist of the film is a pig wants to be a sheepdog. Of course, this is naturally impossible but that doesn’t stop Babe (Christine Cavanaugh) from learning with the farm’s resident border collies, Rex (Hugo Weaving) and Fly (Miriam Margolyes). It’s not always easy and there are times when the other animals remind Babe of his place. Rex being one of them and that’s after the pig catches thieves in action. The dog feels insulted because Farmer Arthur Hogget (James Cromwell) sees Babe sorting the hens. Naturally, the farmer wants to see what the pig can do with sheep. The rest is history but again, it’s not without conflict. Eventually, Rex comes around on the issue. Rex even saves Babe from ridicule by running back and getting the password.
Hogget had brought home Babe after winning him in a guess the weight contest. There’s a brief time where you think he might be the Xmas dinner but that never comes to be. While other animals get to know him as Babe, he’ll always be Pig to the farmer. Hence the popular quote at the end of the sheepdog contest: “That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.”
James Cromwell and Magda Szubanski are the primary humans in the film. All the other primary characters are either animals or animatronics. If there’s a scene where an animal gets injured, it’s done via CGI. Cromwell was well-rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. To date, this is the only Oscar nomination of the actor’s career and he–not Universal–did his awards campaign. To think that there was a time when the veteran actor almost turned down the role! I’m sorry but I just cannot imagine anyone but James Cromwell in the film. He doesn’t have much to say but the actor makes the most of his screen time.
George Miller and Chris Noonan adapt their script from Dick King-Smith’s 1983 novel, The Sheep-Pig. It’s interesting to think about now when you look at how many Oscar nominations the film received. This is definitely a film that of its time. Taking into account this past Oscar season, there is no way that Babe could get a Best Picture nomination in this era. That’s not to take anything away from the film but the chances of such a film getting a nomination today just seems unlikely. Of the film’s seven Oscar nominations (tied for third), only Scott E. Anderson, Charles Gibson, Neal Scanlan and John Cox would home the Oscar for Visual Effects. Other nominations were for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Editing, Adapted Screenplay, and Art Direction. Imagine having to handle the awards campaign for Universal with Apollo 13 as well!
I want to say this about the visual effects. You probably could not have done this film even five years before. While special effects has evolved over time, Jurassic Park was the big game-changer. That’s the film that made a lot of other films possible, including–yes–this one. That’s not to say that there aren’t great films with substantial special effects in the 1980s but this a $30 million budget doesn’t leave much room in that department. The film feels somewhat dated in terms of its visual effects but I’m not complaining–it’s still entertaining except for those scenes where animals are killed. Without this film, it’s unlikely that we enter the modern era of talking animal movies!
Even though it’s hard to imagine this being a film that the Academy would respond to in this era, the film still holds up today. If you look at the poster, you might think it’s a children’s movie. But on a deeper level, Babe also appeals to adults. Put it this way: I appreciate Babe more so now than when I was a kid in the 1990s. There’s just something about rooting for an underdog in competitions and that’s exactly what Babe is. Nobody thinks he has a chance during the competition. Hell, even the judges hold a meeting before issuing a ruling. Not that there’s anything in the rulebooks to say that pigs can’t compete. Everyone laughs as soon as they approach the sheep. Lo and behold, Babe wins with a perfect 100. Sounds impossible, no?
Over 25 years later, Babe remains one of 1995’s best pictures of the year.
DIRECTOR: Chris Noonan
SCREENWRITERS: George Miller & Chris Noonan
CAST: James Cromwell, Magda Szubanski
Universal released Babe in theaters on August 4, 1995. Grade: 5/5
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