Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Babe: Pig in the City

By Marc Savlov

NOVEMBER 30, 1998: 

D: George Miller; with Magda Szubanski, James Cromwell, Mary Stein, Mickey Rooney, and the voices of E.G. Daily, Danny Mann, Glenne Headly, Steven Wright, Adam Goldberg, Roscoe Lee Browne. (G, 95 min.)

As befits the director of Mad Max and The Road Warrior, this sequel to the Academy Award-nominated Babe is a far more boisterous affair than its predecessor. Whereas audiences' initial introduction to the helium-voiced sheep-pig centered around the benign characters of Hoggett's farm, Miller broadens the scope considerably by transplanting the action to the metaphorical City (with its skyline sporting not only the Statue of Liberty, but also the Eiffel Tower, the Hollywood sign, and the Sidney Opera House), making for an altogether more rollicking affair. You know this isn't the same old Babe when the film's first reel has plump Mrs. Hoggett being strip-searched by the Drug Enforcement Agency. If the first film was a gentle parable for children and adults alike, then Babe: Pig in the City is its brash city cousin, a surrealistic, occasionally grim tale of valor in the face of terrifically bad odds. With occasional flashes of Orwell's Animal Farm and some set design that looks strangely cribbed from The City of Lost Children, it is easy to see why the filmmakers had difficulty securing that all-important G rating. Miller opens his film moments after the close of the first, with the sheep-pig Babe (E.G. Daily) basking in his newfound glory, with farmer Hoggett (Cromwell) at his side. The adulation and notoriety soon take second place to more pressing concerns when the farmer is accidentally injured, leaving his wife Esme (Szubanski) to manage the farm. After that, it's not long before a pair of cadaverous bank men come calling to inform the Hoggetts they are about to lose their land. In a desperate effort to secure some cash flow, Mrs. Hoggett and Babe set out to make a guest appearance at a faraway fairgrounds, though a series of missed connections leave them stranded in The City. There they check into an animal-friendly hotel and, while Mrs. Hoggett is thrown in jail (after skirmishing with security guards who appear to be extras from Mad Max), Babe allies himself with a group of city-bred animals including a Fagin-esque orangutan and his hipster chimpanzee cronies (headed by a cool Steven Wright). Much chaos ensues -- far too much to go into here -- but suffice to say that yes, it all works out in the end. No surprise that; the real question is whether kids are going to like this loud, tumultuous menagerie of a film. Despite the odd scene of injured animals and breakneck suspense, this is still a children's film, though it's much more Willy Wonka than Mickey Mouse. Miller's non-stop pacing and sense of the absurd is operating on all cylinders, and though younger kids might shy away from some of the adult gags (of which there are many), that hard-won G rating is in place, barely. You couldn't have gotten a more pleasantly bizarre film if Salvador Dali himself had directed, which says a lot for Miller's rabid talents. Fans of the original (myself included) may be temporarily put off by this sequel's kinetic clutter, but at its heart it's still the same pinkly porcine tale of pig power and PETA-friendly anima.
3.0 stars

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