Monday, January 15, 2007

Movie Review: Babe: Pig In The City 4 ½ Stars

1995’s Oscar-nominated Babe, in which Babe, a deliciously tender piglet, is rescued from becoming Farmer Hoggett’s recipe for pork cutlets by a sheepdog who then trains Babe to be a champion sheepherder, was one of the most beloved, inventive and original family films of the decade. However, the sequel, Babe: Pig In The City has been maligned for its dark tone, creepy characters, bleak images, and harrowing, white-knuckled chases through scary city streets.

Obviously, the state of entertainment for children has become so wrought with bland, white-washed and sterilized non-stories that critics have forgotten the entire history (and purpose) of storytelling. From Og’s harrowing tales of mastodon-hunting and the dark fairly tales of the Brothers’ Grimm to the creepy characters of Disney’s Pinocchio and bleak images of The Wizard of Oz, childrens’ entertainment has always been downright spooky.

Fresh from winning the sheep-do trophy, Babe (E.G. Daily, voice) accidentally lands Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) in traction. With Farmer Hoggett incapacitated and the farm facing foreclosure, Mrs. Hoggett (Magda Szubanski) enters the talented Babe in a lucrative sheepherding contest at the state fair in The Big City. Babe, Ferdinand the duck and the singing mice embark on a journey across the ocean--from the idyllic, pastoral countryside to a Terry Gilliam-esque metropolis. Another series of high jinks, mishaps and sidesteps strand duck and pig in the weird, inhospitable, carnival-esque Big City where they encounter a new cast of characters. PB (Stanley Ralph Ross, voice), a pit bull--who at first torments Babe but later becomes his champion--is the don to a mafia of pooches: Flealick (Adam Goldberg, voice), Nigel and Alan (Eddie Barth, voice) and Pink Poodle (Russi Taylor, voice), an aging beauty with designs on young Babe. Bob and Zootie (Steven Wright and Glenne Headly, voice) head a family of performing apes that include Easy, Tug and the wonderfully melancholy Thelonious (James Cosmo, voice), an orangutan who can’t handle the thought that he’s not human. Mickey Rooney plays their master, circus clown Fugly Floom.

Pig In The City puts a fresh spin on a tried-and-true tale yarn, capturing the enchanting feel of the first movie while illuminating the joys and sorrows of life through Babe’s experiences. Wildly imaginative and technically impressive, Mad Max’s George Miller directs a classic fish-out-of-water story from a script by Miller, Judy Morris and Mark Lamprell (based on Dick King-Smith’s novel The Sheep Pig).

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