In 1995, a little anthropomorphic pig trotted into cinemas with a menagerie of talking mates and proceeded to bring home the bacon, chomping on more than a quarter of a billion dollars of international box office receipts before nestling into a long life on DVD and ancillary markets. The story of a kind-hearted porker who evades the dinner table and becomes a champion sheepdog (of sorts) may have surpassed expectations, but Babe’s success was not an entire surprise.
The film, which celebrates its 20th birthday this year, was produced by Kennedy Miller, the Australian production company behind the Mad Max movies. Its animatronics were the work of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and production costs were around $30m, resulting in a glossy high-end look and the star power of American actor James Cromwell playing one of the few human characters.
The extent to which the world was charmed by the story of the little pig that could is something nobody saw coming. Director and co-writer Chris Noonan’s heart-warming smash-hit (adapted from Dick King-Smith’s 1983 children’s book The Sheep Pig) not only became a darling with critics, but a major player at the 1995 Academy awards. Babe was nominated for seven Oscars including best picture, best director, best supporting actor and best visual effects. It won the latter, beating director Ron Howard’s Apollo 13.
Like its protagonist, the film is sweet-natured, but with all those talking animals and the bright sunshine-infused aesthetic, it’s easy to forget how dark it is. There’s grim humour from the start, with jokes and references geared very much towards the adults. Take the opening location: a factory of pigs raised for the slaughter, who are one day herded into a big truck which they believe is taking them to “pig paradise, a place so wonderful that no pig has ever thought to come back.”
Babe (whose child-like inflection is the work of the veteran voiceover actor Christine Cavanaugh, who died in December) meets the gentle but firm Farmer Hoggett (Cromwell) through a twist of fate. Taken home to Hoggett’s property, the pipsqueak pig fraternises with a range of other animals including an eccentric duck named Ferdinand (Danny Mann) and a gruff sheepdog named Rex (Hugo Weaving).
Adapting to life on the farm, Babe’s earnestness and willingness to please make him a magnet for less noble creatures including a sinister cat (Russi Taylor), but his goodwill pays off when he becomes a pro at herding sheep. His simple tactic: to speak to them politely.
Instead of relying on cookie cutter family film narrative structures (fish out of water comedy, say, or against-the-odds success), Noonan doubles down on developing interpersonal dramas. This results in a sophisticated, character-driven work that just happens to be about talking animals.
It was clear at first blush that the story’s emotional warmth wasn’t going to fade, but two decades later Babe’s visual effects continue to astonish. Noonan’s mixture of animatronics, live action and digital wizardry is a constant source of wonder: you’re never sure where the real animals end and the tricked-up versions begin. Like watching old animatronic Yoda (in the Star Wars originals) as opposed to the new and faker CGI Yoda (in the prequels) there is a richness in real physical presence that can be felt throughout.
That sense of genuine physicality complements the sincerity of the screenplay, which finds fresh ways to deliver timeless messages. The release and subsequent box office flop of the criminally under-watched (and much, much darker) sequel Babe: Pig in the City is a story for another time.
For now we can blow out the birthday candles and recall Farmer Hoggett’s familiar catchphrase: “That’ll do, pig.”
- Australian student found guilty of murdering her friend using cyanide-laced coffee sentenced to 20 years in an Indonesian prison
- Harry Potter is 20 years old - and the boy wizard is worth a staggering £19billion
- Volkswagen’s electric racecar breaks 20-year-old Goodwood hill climb record
- My Dad the Paedophile: Defiant daughter sees evil father jailed 20 years later
- Motherless Brooklyn: Ed Norton on the film it took him 20 years to make
- Victorian drownings reach 20-year high, including 70pc increase among older people
- The Millennium Dome 20 years on… revisiting a very British fiasco
- Faith Evans on Dueting With Notorious B.I.G., 20 Years After His Death
- Brad Pitt says he cried for first time in 20 years following split from Angelina Jolie and custody battle over kids
- Britpop and Kurt Cobain 20 years on - don't look back in anger
- Almost 20 Years Later, ‘Dick’ Still Holds Up
- Tevatron collider falls silent today after 26 years of smash hits
- The Making Of “Homer At The Bat,” The Episode That Conquered Prime Time 20 Years Ago Tonight
- 20 years later, Blind Melon’s maligned
- Inverness swimming pool land still derelict 20 years on
- Panting at the threshold of your worst imaginings: The year in band names, 2016
- Wild hogs that mauled a Texas woman, 57, to death are part of a 'Pig Bomb' invading the US: Hog expert warns influx of 6 MILLION swine more dangerous than SHARKS are roaming the country
- Why Lil Nas X's Last Year Is Such a Big Deal
- Super Smash Bros. 3DS
Babe rewatched – the smash-hit story of the little pig that could, 20 years on have 887 words, post on www.theguardian.com at April 17, 2015. This is cached page on Talk Vietnam. If you want remove this page, please contact us.