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  Babe Pig Tales
Year: 1995
Director: Chris Noonan
Stars: James Cromwell, Magda Szubanski, Christine Cavanagh, Miriam Margolyes, Danny Mann, Hugo Weaving, Miriam Flynn, Russi Taylor, Evelyn Krape, Michael Edward-Stevens, Charles Bartlett, Paul Livingston, Roscoe Lee Browne, Zoe Burton, Paul Goddard
Genre: Comedy, Drama, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: In general, pigs were judged to be only good for eating by most people, but the animals themselves didn't know that, they just thought that they spent their time being factory farmed and then went off to pig paradise, never to return because they were having such a great time there. One piglet saw his mother taken away from him early, and though his siblings were none too bothered he was most upset, but then something happened to take his mind off his problems for rather than spending the rest of his existence in the warehouse, he was chosen by Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) to live at his farm in the country...

That said, Hoggett still planned to eat him come Christmas, so this began to take shape as a tale of how Babe, which is what the creature was called, managed to avoid the dinner table, and once you knew it was based on the classic book by Dick King-Smith called The Sheep-Pig, you had more than a hint of how he managed that. This was the surprise hit of 1995, apparently a silly family film with talking animals designed by Jim Henson's Workshop that actually had a lot more to it than simply some throwaway live action cartoon. For one thing, producer George Miller and director Chris Noonan had laboured over not only getting this right, but getting it made at all, such was their strong belief in the material.

Once it was released, Babe's charm proved irresistable and it even ended up being Oscar nominated for Best Picture, which it lost to Braveheart in spite of this being a far better movie. Naturally this was a work to appeal to vegetarians with its themes of there being better ways to treat animals than eating them, but if it made millions pause before biting into that bacon sandwich then the pigs of the world were presumably grateful. Yet it went deeper than that, as what was more on its mind was working out a way of getting through the struggles and problems of life with kindness and decency over barging your way through your days with more thought for yourself than others: Babe always takes care to consider others' feelings.

This might have made him a piggy messiah in other, less sure and more showy handling, but Miller and Noonan were careful to keep the humour levels up to a high standard, as if to say, yes we know it's daft, but isn't it nice as well? So Babe (voiced by Christine Cavanagh) is looked after by the sheepdog Fly (Miriam Margolyes) who has just delivered a litter of puppies, which gives the piglet an idea: why can't he be a sheepdog as well? Not a sheepdog, perhaps, but what about a... but you're ahead of me, and so the porcine prodigy works out the best method to get others to work together and do what he would like is politeness and courtesy. Good manners cost nothing was the moral, or perhaps the less stern it's nice to be nice, but the cumulative power of the piglet showing the way through each encounter he had was unexpectedly affecting.

That's not to say the jokes dried up halfway through, but the pathos and amusement were expertly regulated throughout, so one moment you would be laughing away at Babe's frantic friend Ferdinand the Duck (Danny Mann), an excellent comic creation, the next worried when the piglet was falsely accused of attacking the flock and threatened with the chop. But then, if he could survive the hungry attentions of Mrs Hoggett (Magda Szubanski) then the odds were favourable he would make it to the end of the movie intact. The grand finale took place at the region's sheepdog trials where Farmer Hoggett found faith in the small pink animal and realised he was as good a guide for the sheep as Fly or Rex (Hugo Weaving), the fierce and sceptical hound who is resistant to Babe's entry into his profession. It could be that this was the hit it was due to its novelty, yet you may arrive for that and leave in an improved mood, as truly this was a movie good for the soul. Composer Nigel Westlake's use of a Saint-Saens theme throughout was the icing on the cake, that and the singing mice.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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