Sunday, February 19, 2012

BABE (1995) starring James Cromwell

Today is the first day of DOGATHON (February 19th - 22nd) and I'm happy to join in the fun with my post on one of the best films about animals - pigs, dogs, ducks and all manner of farm critters, including humans - ever made.

Our host is Rick over at his blog, CLASSIC FILM & TV CAFE, so remember to check in at DOGATHON Central and pick up the links of other participants - some of who are posting today as well.

All the films being talked about, will have at least one dog in a significant role.

As we all know, dogs and pigs are not only photogenic, but smart as heck. Much as I love cats - and I do - dogs gotta' rule. (There is a cat in the film as well, but he plays the part of pain in the butt troublemaker. Par for the course. Ha!)  "Beware of a bad cat carrying a grudge."


BABE (1995), directed by the inventive Chris Noonan, is a film that will win your heart (unless you're a curmudgeon with no redeeming social or human qualities whatsoever). It's the sadly sweet tale of a little pig who isn't quite ready to accept his lot in life. Meant to be Sunday dinner, he, instead is slated to fulfill another destiny.

When stoic Farmer Hoggett, played by the wonderfully laconic James Cromwell wins a piglet at the local fairgrounds, little does he know that this is not just an ordinary pig. Once installed at the Hoggett farm and with the guidance and help of Fly, the female sheepdog who takes a liking to the hapless little guy, Babe will learn, against all the odds, to herd sheep. Outlandish! Yeah, but it happens and you accept it in this charming little film based on the book by Dick King-Smith.

The setting for this pastoral fable is, I suppose, meant to be either Australia or New Zealand, but that's never mentioned. In fact, the setting as art directed by the huge production team looks more like a fairy tale interpretation of a farm. From the thatched roof barn to the quirky Tudor-like main house, it all looks like the kind of place you'd imagine if told to imagine a farm from whole-cloth - it's what farms should look like.

The photography is absolutely wonderful at giving the Hoggett farm and bright green surroundings an 'other-worldly' look. The whole production plays out as if everything were happening inside a snow globe - minus the snow. It really is a heartwarming fantasy in so many ways. Even the opening credits are not to be missed.

BABE is the kind of film an adult can watch and not feel he or she is being condescended to. In fact, the film's themes will probably fly right by a child's head and understanding. In many ways, I think the film is meant  more for the adult heart.

An Eden this is not. There is always the bittersweet undercurrent. Christmas Eve dinner is a duck which is necessarily, slaughtered in the barn by Farmer Hoggett - though we don't see any of the dark details. Babe himself barely escapes being turned into a roast. It is a dread all the older animals know about and live with, but which Babe is totally unaware of.

No one at the farm wants to tell him what will happen to him after awhile since 'pigs have no other purpose.' No one wants to tell him that his mother was taken from the nightmarish agri-business factory farm (seen at the beginning of the film) where Babe (and his many brothers and sisters) was born, and sold to a meat processing plant.

I admit I do get misty when Babe lies in the barn hay crying for his mother. I mean, it is very touching and not in any sugary, sappy way. Damn it, the thing makes sense. Of course a baby animal will miss his mother.

When Fly the sheepdog, takes Babe in hand...uh, paw, he is allowed to sleep with her pups until they're old enough to be sold. That is the dog's destiny though it doesn't make Fly miss her pups any less  when the time comes.

Each animal on the farm must be prepared to deal with his or her own part in the grand scheme of things, even if some of it makes no sense. That's just the way things are. Even if Ferdinand the duck hates being a duck and wants to be a rooster. Even if the sheep think humans are barbarians. It all adds to Babe's initial confusion.

One of the film's ploys is the use of three little mice as a kind of squeaky Greek Chorus. They show up at the end of some scenes, barely visible to the viewer, singing some little song or other to herald or counterpoint what's going to happen next or what has already happened. The film's clever visuals play into this.

For instance when it seems as if Babe is going to be picked to be the next night's dinner, the mice sing a few notes from the death scene in the opera, Carmen. At other times, they sing Blue Moon and other assorted little ditties. It is very funny.

Babe himself, is voiced perfectly by Christine Cavanaugh. The other animals are equally well cast, each voice capturing the particular animal's personality. Fly - voiced by Miriam Margolyes - the mothering sheepdog, sounds as gentle, wise and intelligent as we know sheepdogs to be.

Fly and Rex

Her consort, Rex is voiced by Hugo Weaving and has the gruff manner of a male dog not used to playing second fiddle to a pig. He is also a dog growing older and bitterly resentful. Unknown to the humans, Rex is almost totally deaf since being trapped overnight in a terrible storm, trying to save some isolated sheep stragglers. His deeply felt dignity is affronted by the pig's sudden insertion into his and Fly's sheep-herding duties.

The sheep, by the way, are voiced in such a manner that if you could imagine a sheep speaking, these are the voices you'd imagine. When they laugh at Babe the first time he tries to round them up, they laugh exactly as sheep should laugh.

The entire tale is lovingly narrated by Roscoe Lee Browne in just the right way, with just the right matter of fact, slightly gravelly tone. He is telling us a wonderful story and knows it.

The beautiful and noble sheepdogs, Fly and Rex are central to the movie. Fly, especially, in her understanding of Babe's naivete and gullibility, allows him to call her, Mom. The affection between them is part of the movie's charm. Fly is partially responsible later in the film for saving Babe's life when he is suspected of attacking one of the sheep.

When Babe finally finds out the hard, piggish facts of life - the jealous cat has spilled the beans - he is so upset and frightened that he runs away. When brought back, he sinks into a desperate depression from which Farmer Hoggett does his best - not knowing what is really wrong - to cheer him up. The vet tells him to get some liquids into the pig or he'll risk losing him. Hoggett resorts to bottle feeding and a soothing lullaby - of sorts. Don't roll your eyes, it is very touching and made me misty as heck.

Later, when the sheep herding trials take place, Hoggett becomes the laughing stock of the county for entering a pig in the competition. It is up to the dogs, Fly and Rex to communicate with the sheep back at the farm and come up with the right combo of words which will allow the unfamiliar sheep at the competition, to obey a strange little sheep-pig.

Let's just say that in the end, he who laughs last, laughs best.

James Cromwell can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. His face is so silently expressive, the vague gleam of the dreamer lives in his eyes. This is the role he will be remembered for and I can't imagine anyone else in the part.

I read in the IMDB notes that after this film, Cromwell - a vegetarian - became a vegan. I don't blame him.

To view a trailer of BABE, please use this link.

The movie is available for online viewing as a rental from Amazon and also available as a dvd from Netflix.

That'll do, Pig.


  1. Yvette, to give you the ultimate compliment on your review: "It'll do." BABE is one of my favorite films of the last two decades and you've done a marvelous job explaining why. There is so much to admire in it. I love your description of the Hoggett's farm as a "fairy tale interpretation of a farm." I agree that the voices are perfect (proving once again that you don't need big-name stars to provide voices for animated films). There is indeed a slightly bittersweet undercurrent in the film and I think that provides it with unexpected emotional impact. I've seen BABE multiples times and always enjoy it. I remember being disappointed with the sequel, BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, but think perhaps it's time to re-evaluate it.

  2. Hi Yvette - Babe is one of my favorite films, but it's had a negative effect on me, as I now sometimes (in front of others) spontaneously burst into Babe's style of singing!

  3. I loved this movie. Your review is excellent and touching. It reminded me of so many aspects of the movie which I had forgotten, not having seen it for many years.

    There are a lot of valuable lessons in the movie, even about cooperation and solidarity among the animals.

    James Cromwell was perfect in the movie. No one else could have played that role as well or embodied his character like he did.

    I liked him even more when I saw a TV interview with him, in which he said that he went to Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement to help with voter registration at a time when it was extremely dangerous to do so.

    P.S. I love to see TV segments about pig rescue organizations. There is one named Hog Heaven and it rescues abused and abandoned pigs. Good work!

    And, no, I don't eat pork.

  4. When I saw you were doing "Babe" I had to call my mom and let her know. Of course she squealed with delight. She has seen this film countless times and talked about it non stop for months.

    I've actually never seen it (not sure how I escaped that and don't let my mother know). I am a big fan of James Cromwell and I've seen my share of films where animals talk so there is no excuse.

    A really enjoyable review which makes me feel terrible that I've avoided it.

    Oh, and I do eat pork! (Sorry Babe and all of Babe's friends)

    A fun contribution to the Dogathon!

  5. Yvette, a great addition to the Dogathon. I haven't seen "Babe" in quite a few years, but I recall loving it and being pleasantly surprised at how successfully it captured both the look and the spirit of a really high-quality illustrated children's book--the kind that's just as enjoyable for adults as for kids. I honestly didn't completely recall how big a part dogs play in the film so was surprised when I saw you had chosen it to write on. Thanks for reminding us that it's (almost) as much about dogs as about the title piglet. I'll never forget Babe's shock and existential angst when he realizes why humans raise pigs, and the tender way Cromwell nurses him through his depression. I also enjoyed your gallery of canine art too, a nice lead-in to the post for the Dogathon.

  6. Yvette:

    This was such a great way to revisit a film I haven't seen in years. Thanks so much for taking me back there.

    By the way ...

    "The whole production plays out as if everything were happening inside a snow globe - minus the snow."

    ... is a GREAT line.

  7. Yvette ~ may I begin by saying how nice it is to see your blog included in this canine themed blogathon (and compliment you on the lovely design and layout of your blog home). Your selection is one of very few films included that I have not only seen but saw when it was released in theaters. I admit it was the singing mice in the television trailer that convinced me to drive to the theater and buy a ticket, but the blend of fairy tale and reality based elements won my heart. I know “Babe” is the story of one little pig making his way in the world, but he couldn’t have found his way without the help of the beautiful sheepdogs in his life. Their wise and gentle natures encourage and teach him to become a better pig (no, I don’t require suspension of disbelief, I embrace the animals’ personalities without question).

  8. Wonderful post on a wonderful movie. I haven't seen "Babe" in many years and you brought it, and the feelings it evokes, right back to me. Not easy to do.

    After drying my eyes from reading your entry, I may pick up the movie and watch it again.


  9. Yvette, you have given Babe its due, and more. I have not seen it in years, but I remember it with great fondness. I especially always liked the mice, as you described: "One of the film's ploys is the use of three little mice as a kind of squeaky Greek Chorus." Wonderful description of their function in the movie. Excellent review and a fun read!

  10. I was absolutely thrilled that you chose to review this wonderfully charming tale! The story is so honestly encouraging, yet not in a fluffy bunny sort of way. Babe is a tiny piglet who has to grow up and thankfully he was brought home to the Hoggett farm. Watching the bond grow between the farmer, most of the other animals, and this little pig with a giant heart is truly heartwarming. Yvette, you have given a true classic the loveliest tribute. Very well done!

  11. The biggest and best lesson we could all take away from this film is that it doesn't have to be and shouldn't be any animal's lot in life to have their life taken away to end up on our dinner plates. Eating their carcasses kills us, our bodies and our souls.

    I recently saw a piglet at Farm Sanctuary lift his little nose to a warm breeze and close his eyes to enjoy the sun and then race around the field among the older pigs who were basking in the sun. Tell me those pigs weren't enjoying life. Just like the chickens and cows and sheep and other animals there, spared the slaughterhouse for all of their lives.

    James Cromwell became an outspoken vegan after making Babe. I wish that everyone who saw the film would chose a compassionate, healthful, more environmentally sound life style. And, yes, I'm a vegan. It's incredibly easy to do if you just remember the suffering and violence and tragedy inflicted on each animal who ends up as 'food'. What we do to animals is unforgivable.

  12. I really enjoyed reading your review on an extremely charming film about a pig that wants to be a sheep dog.

    The acting and animatronics is wonderful. James Cromwell is perfect as the farmer willing to give the little pig a chance.

    I also wanted to let you know that you have a beautiful blog..

  13. Thank you, Rick. I am so pleased that the head honcho of the Dogathon enjoyed my review. :)

    Sorry I'm so late in responding but I was out all day yesterday babysitting my granddaughter and just plain, having fun.

    Not that my blog isn't fun too...!

    I loved watching this film again and writing about it for the first time.

    I also encourage you to re-watch BABE PIG IN THE CITY which Gene Siskel picked as Best Film of the Year the year it was released. Roger Ebert had it second, I believe. There is much is that film to think about. I was especially moved by the plight AND dignity of the organgutan with pretensions of being human, thinking that will save him from exploitation. I think it is a wonderful film.

  14. Mark: Don't you love it? La-la-la-la-la-la-lalalalala!

  15. Kathy, I had heard of Cromwell's efforts on behalf of civil rights, but didn't know the details. He is a multi-faceted man. I adore him.

    If he's in a movie, you know there will be at least one interesting thing to watch.

    My own brand of meat avoidance is thus: I never eat veal, I never eat lamb (Don't eat baby animals.) and I try with all my might not to eat pork, but occasionally my love of bacon overrules my sense and judgement.

    I like to say that I am 75% vegetarian and working on it.

  16. Page: You definitely need to see this film, especially since your mom loves it so. You mom has excellent taste. :)

    If you see this film I think you'll never think of pigs in quite the same way again. :)

  17. R.D.: Thanks so much for your kind words. I agree that the dogs are definitely integral to the story. Without them, Babe would have had a much different end.

    Babe's plaintive and touching line, "May I call you, Mom?" is said as much for his sake as hers.

    I also like how they all called Farmer Hoggett, "The Boss."

  18. ScribeHard: Why, thank you sir (or madam). I'm glad you liked that line. It's really how I see the whole movie taking place. :)

    I watched the film again after several years so I could write about it for Rick's Dogathon and I was as moved by it as I was the first time I saw it in the theater.
    It's just such a special film.

  19. whistlingypsy: I don't require much suspension of disbelief either, especially when this story appears to capture the essential personalities I'd like to think animals have.

    (We all know ducks are nuts.)

    It was a real pleasrue to view BABE again. I used to own it in videotape but now I think it's time to get my very own dvd copy.

  20. Thanks, Becky. It was a fun review to write. I hope my love of the movie shines through - that's what I wanted most to convey.

    Those mice, those mice....HA!

  21. toto2: Many thanks! I'm so glad you enjoyed my review. It's always easiest when a film is loved as much as I do this one.

    As much as we all do, it seems. I wasn't sure how many movie mavens would agree with me about the worth of this special film.

  22. Joan, thank you for your hearfelt comments. I basically agree with you though as I said in an earlier response, I do occasionally fall victim to my craving for bacon.

    But, as mentioned, I never eat veal or lamb and very rarely chicken, and only occasionally eat beef - never at home.

    I'm trying...

    Yes, by the way, I do agree that animals enjoy life. Pigs especially are known to be smarter than dogs, or so I've read.

  23. Thanks for the compliment, Dawn. I'm glad you discovered my blog. :)

    I work hard at keeping things looking nicely around here.

    Thanks too for liking my review of a favorite film. Seeing it yet again has reminded me how wonderful a film it really is.

    Let's just say it lived up to my memories of it. A film can't really do much more than that. :)

  24. Aurora: Well, I get misty too, almost from the first scenes at that awful dark place. And when Babe says, wistfully, "Goodbye, Mom..." I have to control myself. What a touching scene. Jeez...

    I say: why not pick up a copy and watch it again. For myself, I'm glad I did. It really is remarkable.

  25. Yvette, your review of BABE is as warm, funny, and poignant as the film itself! We loved BABE from the first time we saw it in our local movie theater, and we were all charmed and moved by it. When our daughter Siobhan became old enough to watch it on DVD, it ended up being a great conversation starter about life; both of us were alternately laughing, crying our eyes out (in a good way), and cheering in all the right places! Those Greek chorus mice cracked us up!

    BABE is so beautifully acted (both live action and voice work); James Cromwell has certainly come a long was from Stretch Cunningham in ALL IN THE FAMILY back in the day! No wonder it was nominated for so many Oscars, including Best Picture, and its special effects wins were well-deserved. Beautiful post, Yvette!

  26. Ah, Dorian, you've making me blush. :)

    I'm thrilled you enjoyed the post. BABE is one of those films that just stays with you. It's a keeper, that's for sure. A prime example of how to make animal fantasy films that don't make you shudder with goopy sentimentality.

    Oh, Stretch Cunningham. Right. Now I remember. YES, a VERY long way. Cromwell was nominated for an Oscar for BABE. Well-deserved too. He should have won.

  27. Hi Yvette, hope you're ok? I've nominated you for a blog award over at my house x

  28. Reading this and the quotes about Babe saying "Mom" is bringing back my memories of crying through the movie and now tearing up at these words here.

    I must see this movie again.

    You should get a copy and then when your grand-daughter is old enough to see it, you'll have it.

    There are so many lessons in this movie about cooperation and solidarity and love and respect, as well as mutual assistance.

    On meat, well, I gave up venison, veal, and would never eat rabbit or goat (I love goats; they're like dogs) and then gave up pork and when I had to watch cholesterol, I gave up all other mammal eating. It's fine with me.

    I occasionally eat chicken and turkey and fish.

    Anyway, must resee this film with my tissues firmly in hand.

  29. This was so well done. It's been years since we've seen this movie. You've inspired us to see it again soon!Carter

  30. Great job. Babe is one of those movies that will age gracefully because it is timeless and appeals to all ages. It's been several years since I have seen it, but I feel like it might be time to sit down for a viewing soon!

  31. Thanks so much, Lucy. I'm fine, just feeling a little dragged out lately.

    I'll be over to check in on you later and pick up my award. :)

    Again, many thanks.

  32. Kathy: I know! I was misty most of the way through. What a truly, special film. I loved it again more than I even thought I would.

  33. R.A.Kerr: Thank you, what a nice thing to say. I hope everyone who reads this post will want to see BABE again or even, for the first time. :)

  34. Exactly right, Jill. It is timeless. This is a film that will never lose its inherent relevency, its message of love and respect.

    I'm working on a list of my favorite 100 films and of course, BABE is on it.

  35. I saw this in the theatre when it came out and even had it on VHS, but I haven't seen it in years. It's such a sweet movie!

  36. Baa ram ewe!

    Your review has made me all kinds of nostalgic. Loved it! I really need to sit down and watch this one again! (The sequel, though--not so much.)

  37. Then you need to see it again, Lauren. I am definitely going to buy a copy. I really did enjoy it more than I though I would viewing it again after all these years.

  38. Brandie, I think the sequel has a more somber mood to it. It is definitely not for children. In truth it is a bit of a heartbreaker. But I always remember that Gene Siskel picked it as the Best Movie of the Year in the year of its release.

    I may talk about it at some point. But I'm a little afraid to watch it. Gotta' be in a crying mood.


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