Directed by: Chris Noonan
Starring: James Cromwell, Magda Szubankski, Christine Cavanaugh, Miriam Margolyes, Hugo Weaving
The box for the home video for Chris Noonan’s Babe (1995) makes the claim that the film is “the Citizen Kane of talking pig movies,” and while that’s a safer claim than many such comparisons (e.g., the now embarrassing assertion that Purple Rain was the “Citizen Kane of rock movies”), I think George Miller’s darker sequel film, Babe: Pig in the City (1998), is probably more in the Wellesian realm. However, Babe was a surprisingly good film in 1995 and it remains so today.
Noonan’s film is one of those rare family films that refuses to talk down—or rather write down—to the viewer in the belief that its every jot and tittle must be comprehensible to viewers from the age of 2 to the age of 102. The script by Noonan and producer George Miller assumes that children are sharp enough to get the gist of things—or at least know enough to ask an adult. At the same time, it’s not in the increasingly annoying post-modern mode of being filled with all manner of pop-culture references designed to make the movie appear hip. Instead, it allows the humor to come from the story itself. After all, it’s a fantasy of a talking pig, Babe (Christine Cavanaugh), who turns out to be a natural when it comes to herding sheep.
Some of the humor is tinged with a surprising bitterness concerning the fate of pigs in general—the tone of which is set in the very opening credits with a surprising array of porcine ephemera depicting the incomprehensibly happy, smiling, even dancing porkers who appear to be just delighted to be on their way to the slaughterhouse. (Just why do sausage makers insist on festooning their wares with happy tap-dancing swine in straw boaters anyway?) The results of all this are edgy, but ultimately charming and make the movie worth revisiting. One note, however: Despite a credit reading “music by Nigel Westlake,” it’s only fair to point out that the main theme in the film (the one that forms the basis of the song in the film) is straight out of Camille Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3, the “Organ Symphony.”
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Babe at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 1, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to the Lake Point Landing entrance and park in the lot on the left.)