Read this. Don’t skip it. You’ll be thankful you did.
When the original Babe movie came out, a young cousin of mine insisted on watching it over and over again. Although I loved the movie when it came out (I was in high school at the time) watching it ad nauseum turned me off to the notion of the sequel, Babe: Pig in the City, when it appeared in theaters.It seemed like a shameless attempt at cashing in on zeitgeist.
It sort of fell off my radar after that.
In 2008, The Onion did a New Cult Canon review of the film, and in reading about it and watching the clips I realized I might really be missing out on something. I put it in my Netflix queue and sort of forgot about it.
Then one of my dad’s closest friends died.
I found out the night before, was up most of the night crying, and decided to call in to work the following day.
While at home, I saw we had movies, and being a person who likes movies in a time of emotional upset, I decided to watch whatever the hell was near at hand. It turned out to be today’s entry.
As a children’s movie, Babe: Pig in the City is somewhat wanting. There are a lot of bizarre plot twists, characters with shady motivations, disturbing characters, and downright twisted imagery.
As an affirmation of remaining true to oneself, throwing off the expectations of others, the benefits that may come with risk, and continuing to struggle in the face of impossibly bleak odds, it is a goddamn masterpiece.
That’s right: the truth gets typed in bold.
Between horrible Rube Goldbergian accidents, geriatric clowns, licentious chimpanzees, art deco/steampunk architecture, rampant species-ism, brutal life lessons, and animal violence, Pig in the City seems more like something one of the Davids (Lynch or Cronenberg) might jot down in their Bad Dream Diary and forget about. It’s easy to see why it failed as children’s movie, when it was really the next City of Lost Children.
At base, it’s about getting separated from one’s protector/parent/comfort zone and the inherent fear of needing to fend for oneself, as well as other less-articulated fears like fierce dogs, strangers, liars, clowns, and even the police: in a particularly frightening scene where the Health Department conducts a Swat-style raid on a hotel full of animals in hiding,, many animals are brutally subjected to cages, choke-poles, nooses and just rough treatment. There are so many facets to the film it’s almost trite to try and name them all. What Miller was attempting was something less like Bambi and more like ET, but unfortunately the timing was wrong–a film like this would have cleaned up in the 80’s, when children’s fare tended to wander into the dark more often.Unfortunately, the late 90’s was more geared towards the sugar-coated, Nerf-encased products of today.
An important factor differentiating the first Babe from its much darker second is that the second was largely scripted by George Miller, who directed (but didn’t write) the first. Miller began his career as a trauma center surgeon in Australia, putting back together people who had grievously damaged themselves in traffic accidents, and it was this constant exposure to youth bike/racing culture that brought him to write and direct the films he’s much better known for than Babe:
The Mad Max films.
The man who directed a movie about a sweet little pig who refuses to conform to barnyard stereotypes also wrote Mad Max. He wrote THUNDERDOME for Christ’s sake.
Here’s a fun little gratuitous jaunt in the Wayback Machine, about a woman named Entity and her little Raggedy Man:
Yeah, I feel like watching it again RIGHT NOW, too. Mel Gibson may be a crazy ass ranty mysogynist, but that movie isn’t just Mel Gibson. It’s George Miller, Tina Turner, Angry Anderson, giant trucks, chainsaw battles, and everything else.
Pig in the City is a rightful entry into the new Film Canon: as mentioned above, it makes an abysmal children’s movie, and an amazing affirmation of keeping one’s moral compass amid unrelenting social pressure.
On the screen, I finally saw the sorts of things I believe in being displayed: respect for others and their rights and beliefs, understanding, reciprocal altruism (the concept that the good you do may be returned: karma, sort of), and most of all, optimism.
The first two-thirds of the movie are brilliant, but it begins to break down in the 3rd with an extended ‘zany party bungee’ scene. I can see why such a strangely lighthearted sequence would fit, if only it had been a little more underplayed it might have netted the Babe movies another Oscar nod.
There are rumors that Miller is writing a 3rd installment to the franchise: they may come to nothing, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a 3rd Babe film. I hope it’s as good as Babe 1, if only so it makes decent money and is a delight for children, but secretly I’m hoping for another installment of the wondrous weirdness that is Pig in the City.
Pig in the City is not available on Instant Watch.