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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Babe: Pig in the City (review)

No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of This Movie

[Spoilers]

I just thought I should make that clear, because Babe: Pig in the City has got to be the darkest G-rated movie I’ve ever seen. From a floozy poodle and a drowning pit bull to a junkyard kitten’s heartbreaking mews of hunger and her terrier friend’s story of how his humans cruelly abandoned him, Pig in the City may be enough to give little kids nightmares, or at least prompt them to ask awkward questions of their parents.

Not that you shouldn’t run out to see Babe: Pig in the City immediately — quite the contrary. Grownups and kids alike will love the further adventures of the talking sheep-pig. Picking up exactly where Babe left off, this squeal — er, I mean sequel — follows Babe (the voice of Elizabeth Daily) and Farmer Hoggett (L.A. Confidential‘s James Cromwell) home from their triumphant victory at the sheepdog trials. Offers to appear on television and make personal appearances at agricultural events pour in, but Hoggett just wants to get back to his quiet life.
Alas, it is not to be. Babe’s generous attempt to help the Boss repair an old well ends in disaster, and while Hoggett is laid up recovering, his wife, Esme (Magda Szubanski) is left to run the farm — not exactly her forté. Too soon, men from the bank are calling, threatening to put the farm up for auction. So, Babe and the Boss’s wife head to the big city for a lucrative pigsonal appearance at a fair.

In hilarious manner, they never make it to the fair but end up stranded in the city, lodging at the only place that will accept a pig: Flealands Hotel, a kind of flophouse for animals and their human friends. Babe gets shanghaied into Fugly Floom’s (Mickey Rooney) ape circus, befriending worldly wise chimps Bob and Zootie (wonderfully voiced by Steven Wright and Glenne Headly) and dignified orangutan Thelonius (James Cosmo), amongst other creatures great and small living at the hotel. Circumstances separate Babe from the Boss’s wife, and he and his new friends will have to get through some dark times before they reach the happy ending.

Pig in the City delights and affects at the same time. Babe’s farmland home is as colorful and otherworldly as it ever was — and totally appropriate for the Hoggetts, whom the announcer reminds us are “slightly to the left of the twentieth century.” And the unnamed city to which Babe and Esme travel is just as askew as you’d expect it to be. Babe’s first sight of the city’s skyline is howlingly funny, with its amalgam of famous landmarks from cities around the world, a clever shorthand that creates a world city both identifiable and anonymous. The animals characters are complex and fascinating. Flealick (the voice of Adam Goldberg), a little dog who zooms around with his useless rear legs in a cart, dismisses all — okay, almost all — possibilities of pity with his scene-stealing feistiness. When Babe saves the aforementioned pit bull (the voice of Stanley Ralph Ross), the terrifying bully is reborn as Babe’s protective righthand dog. From Babe’s defense of the Boss’s wife and his desperate rescue of a goldfish to the film’s cartoony ambience and brilliant touches like the Greek chorus of mice, Pig in the City evokes both laughs and tears of joy for writer/director George Miller and cowriter Judy Morris’s sheer cleverness.

Something a friend of mine said about the first Babe applies to Pig in the City too: “It’s not just a movie about a pig.” It’s also about friendship and personal integrity — and wonderful fantasy moviemaking. It sweeps you into its bizarre little world and doesn’t let go for an hour and a half — which is exactly what movies should do.

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viewed at a public multiplex screening

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