Babe: Pig in the City

The original “Babe” was such a box office success and a global phenomenon that a sequel was inevitable. I’m still waiting, because “Babe: Pig in the City” isn’t the sequel I’ve been waiting for. This “Babe” is a dog, and for an hour-and-a-half barks up the wrong tree.


Everything that was right about the original is missing from this frenzied sequel. What was cute is chaotic, what was charming is now disarming. The film maker’s seem to think that more is better, but in this case, less would have been more.

The screenplay by director George Miller, Judy Morris, Mark Lamprell is a bizarre blend of flat humor, false sentiment and chaotic action. The results make you yearn for the simple yet sweet original by director Chris Noonan.

The biggest mistake comes early in the film, and it’s all downhill from there. The film picks up where the original left off. Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) and “Babe” are returning home to a heroes welcome after “Babe” has won the blue ribbon for Sheep Herding.

Hoggett and “Babe” go together like a pig and a poke, and that’s the rub. The writer’s immediately dispatch Farmer Hoggett within the first fifteen minutes of the film, thus putting the focus on his befuddled wife Esme (Magda Szubanski).

When Hoggett is laid up after “Babe” causes a nasty accident in the well, Esme is forced to tend to the farm and pay the bills. When she falls behind, those notorious men in black suits from the bank come calling.

Esme needs a miracle to save the farm, and pins her hopes on a state fair personal appearance by “Babe.” That means Esme and “Babe” must leave the farm for the big city. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that things will go wrong.

In no time Esme and “Babe” are suspected of being drug couriers, are strip searched, and then are forced to miss their plane connection. That means they’re stuck in the big city with no money and no where to turn.

They find solace in an out-of-the-way hotel that caters to people and their pets, and Esme immediately sets out to make the best of a bad situation. Her journey lands her in hot water and then jail, leaving poor “Babe” to fend for himself.

“Babe” is in good company. The hotel is a flop house for numerous animals, including dogs, chimps, cats, and birds. When the owner is called away on a medical emergency (a bizarre sub- plot involving Mickey Rooney as a two-bit circus performer), all of the animals join together to forage for food.

Their excursion into the city lands “Babe” in all kids of hot water (there’s a vicious dog attack), but manages to turn up a jar of jelly beans. How the animals decide to dispense the jelly beans among the inhabitants of the hotel is the film’s only bright spot, a sincerely funny homage to mob movies.

There’s also the birth of a pair of chimpanzee babies that almost hits home. Unfortunately every time the film reaches an emotional moment, it’s cut off by a moment of chaos. The delivery scene is interrupted by marauding police who have come to the hotel to round up all of the animals.

“Babe” and some of his friends manage to get loose, and then are forced to come to the rescue of their caged friends and Esme Hoggett.

No disrespect to the actress, but Esme Hoggett is an accident waiting to happen, so you immediately feel uncomfortable with her escorting “Babe” on the trip. The trip should have been made by Farmer Hoggett, whose rapport with the pig was priceless in the first film. You really miss the character and James Cromwell, the actor who plays him.

“Babe: Pig in the City” cost a lot of money, and most of it was spent to create a stylized city that looks like it was pieced together from the sets of “Hans Christian Anderson” and “Dangerous Beauty.” All of that money is wasted on production design that adds nothing notable to the film.

There’s also a larger menagerie of animals this outing, and while some of them are a welcome addition, it’s a case of too much too soon. The animals lose their distinction and just simply slide into the background. The special and visual effects are all superb, but there’s so much going on you’re never able to appreciate the effort.

The sequel is too mean spirited to be any fun. Rotten things happen to just about every character in the film. Director Miller, most noted for his “Mad Max” films, obviously has never heard of the word subtle. He takes every joke and clobbers you over the head with it. Obviously he too didn’t trust the screenplay. “Babe: Pig in the City” should have been fun.

At worst, it should have been somewhat engaging. What emerges is a film that is too dark and too mean to be entertaining. The original “Babe” had it’s dark moments, but they were addressed with a subtle nod (like Babe’s mom going off to Hog heaven) or as a dramatic turning point in the film (like Ma Sheep being attacked).

“Babe: Pig in the City” seems to wallow in it’s morbidity. Unfortunately, this sequel will pretty much close the “Babe” franchise. Too bad, because there’s a real sequel waiting to be made that will be true to the “Babe” story.

“BABE” SWEET & SOUR PORKER

BABE: PIG IN THE CITY

Magda Szubanski, James Cromwell, Mary Stein, Mickey Rooney and the vocal talents of E.G. Daily, Danny Mann, Roscoe Lee Browne, Glenne Headly, Steven Wright and James Cosmo in a film directed by George Miller. Rated G. 97 Min.

LARSEN RATING: $3



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