Exuding simple charm, Babe is one of the few modern family films to earn and be worthy of an Oscar nomination for Best Picture (E.T., Beauty and the Beast, The Blind Side, Up, and Toy Story 3 are the only others I can think of). As straightforward and appealing a fable as any Hollywood has produced, the film has a unique ability to appeal to children and adults on the same level, rather than including kiddie stuff solely for the kids and mature jokes only their parents would get.
Babe is pleasingly whimsical with its sneezing ducks and bucolic Hobbiton-like location, but also surprisingly blunt in how it depicts the true “purpose” of pigs and the reality of death. Babe may not understand the meaning of a meat truck or a shotgun, but the audience does, even impressionable young viewers. In creating lovable characters out of edible farm animals, the film succeeded in guilting many into a vegetarian lifestyle, including star James Cromwell, and though I myself still enjoy a good steak, it’s a decision I can certainly understand and respect, having seen this film.
Even with the truth of “the way things are,” the film is replete with unabashedly sweet moments: Fly’s comforting of Babe when she misses her mother, Babe’s comforting of Fly when she misses her pups, Hoggett’s musical comforting of Babe when she falls ill. Roscoe Lee Browne’s sapient narration highlights the film’s storybook quality, along with the intermittent chapter headings provided by a trio of mice who are high on Alvin and the Chipmunks.
James Cromwell earned a Best Actor nomination for his understated portrayal of laconic Farmer Hoggett, and it’s amazing that he can play the father of robotics or warp travel with the same skill as an outdated farmer who can barely operate a fax machine. Magda Szubanski milks some laughs as his overbearing wife, while the rest of the cast is mostly the talking animals. In addition to Christine Cavanaugh (the original Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory) as naïve and innocent Babe, the standout voice actors are Miriam Margolyes as Fly and Hugo Weaving as Rex, the two dogs who assist Babe in her rise to stardom.
Though Babe failed to win most of its nominations (‘twas the year of Braveheart and Sense and Sensibility), it beat out Apollo 13 for the Best Visual Effects Oscar. Unlike the usual spectacle that earns that award nowadays, it won for the seemingly simple feat of granting the animals speech, at times using puppets, other times replacing their lower jaws and partial faces with CGI to create mouth movement. The result is subtle but impressive, and the animals are significantly more realistic than the more recent all-CGI attempts, like Marmaduke or Scooby Doo. In addition, the film’s orchestral score is lovely, dominated by a piece of Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 in C Minor. Scott Fitzgerald recorded the tune as the 1977 pop song “If I Had Words,” which is also prominent in the film; in fact, the mice’s rendition at the end deserves a place in my End Credits Song Hall of Fame.
Babe is the most notable proof that a G-rated family film can still be Oscar-worthy without the objectionable material so many awards contenders feel is necessary. While it and another famous pig story Charlotte’s Web probably turned off half a generation from pork, Babe is a shining example of a family film done right.
Best line: (the narrator, as Fly is trying to figure out if Babe was guilty of a crime) “Fly decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that sheep were stupid, and there was nothing that could convince her otherwise.” (Fly) “Please, someone tell me… what happened this morning.” (the narrator again) “The sheep decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that wolves were ignorant, and there was nothing that could convince them otherwise.”
VC’s best line: (Farmer Hoggett) “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”Rank: 58 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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