For all its sublime charms, Babe’s most endearing attribute may be its universality, which extends from its episodic tale’s lessons about tolerance to its Hoggett farm setting, a storybook locale that feels at once Midwestern American, rural English, and sleepy countryside Australian. Based on Dick King-Smith’s children’s book “The Sheep-Dog,” Chris Noonan’s film (co-written with producer George Miller) isn’t novel in its desire to impart morals via an anthropomorphic animal fable. Yet the director’s realization of his material is pitch-perfect, with its seemingly effortless synthesis of humor and pathos almost as wonderful as is its ability to capture the sense of awe and fear that attends youth’s initial exposure to the big wide world. Separated from his family (who are sent to the slaughterhouse they believe to be heaven), piglet Babe (voiced by Christine Cavanaugh) fortuitously winds up at the home of Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell), where he’s exposed to a diverse animal population – including loving dog Fly (Miriam Margolyes), her mean mate Rex (Hugo Weaving), and rascally duck Ferdinand (Danny Mann) – and where he proves, through pure-hearted naïveté and kindness, that character is self-defined and that differences from the norm are to be embraced rather than feared. Such themes might have been treated with manipulative mawkishness by a more aggressive directorial hand, but Noonan’s approach is sentimental without being unduly syrupy, his handling of triumph and tragedy distinguished by an aesthetic and narrative classicism as well as a respect for his pint-sized audience’s intelligence. Clearly drawn two- and four-legged characters (including Cromwell’s superb performance as the naturally iconoclastic farmer) and an expertly choreographed child’s POV are also essential facets of Babe’s appeal, though its account of the little pig’s status quo-defying quest to become a champion sheepherder is ultimately more than the sum of its parts – and, in fact, is more (engaging, amusing, clever) than virtually every comparable kid’s film of the past ten years.
This review was a delightful surprise...were more films like this nominated for Best Picture (of course, they'd have to be made in the first place). Very few titles come to mind when thinking of its equals over the last decade, and I could probably wouldn't need more than two hands to count them all.
Of course, you realize that this now demands a follow-up review of Babe 2? I do hope we're in the same camp on that one.
Posted by: rob | January 24, 2007 at 12:15 PM
Yeah, there aren't many kid's films - or, for that matter, adult films - in Babe's class. A truly magical film that's sweet, charming, intelligent and profound, all while being a technical marvel with great performances and one nicely done bodily fluid gag.
Of course a review of Babe 2 is forthcoming, though given that I won't be watching THAT one with my two-year-old (just yet, anyway), I first have to find some time to see it again.
Posted by: Nick | January 24, 2007 at 12:30 PM
It was quite the coincidence seeing it up today too, as yesterday I randomly drew a picture of Ferdinand for my girlfriend, seeing as we both adore him. A scene of his in the sequel has what is by and far one of my most favorite lines of dialogue, ever.
Posted by: rob | January 24, 2007 at 03:01 PM
If you had given this movie anything less than an A- I would have renounced ever knowing you.
And Bobby Hebert sucks.
Posted by: Eric | January 24, 2007 at 06:59 PM
Geez I haven't seen Babe since its theatrical run; I remember seeing it during a double feature along with The Net, and it's like one of these is, ah, quite a bit better than the other. Kid films are doing fine IMO; I have no qualms about citing stuff like Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events or Toy Story 2 (among others) as candidates worthy of Best Picture, strange as that sounds.
Posted by: J | January 25, 2007 at 04:57 AM
The only (semi-recent) children's films that come to mind as being on par with Babe - and Babe 2: Pig in the City - are Pixar-produced. I guess The Iron Giant would also make the cut.
And no, Bobby Hebert does not suck. He's great. GREAT, I tell you.
Far better than Bubby Brister, anyway.
Posted by: Nick | January 26, 2007 at 04:59 PM
Funny, Nick, I was going to list the recent films I thought were equal to "Babe," and you named them all verbatim. Although, we can both agree that not all of Pixar's work qualifies...if "Cars" wins Best Animated Film this year, I'll be pissed. Btw, what did you think of "Happy Feet" (if you saw it)?
Posted by: rob | February 01, 2007 at 03:18 AM