National Kids Day: Babe
As part of National Kids & Pets Day, we decided finding nostalgic childhood films was a bit easier than combining both themes. We are taking this opportunity to review ten films that have been deemed staples of the youths of varying generations. This article looks at Babe.
I am seldom at a loss for words when it comes to how a film is made. Twenty four years later, and I still cannot wrap my head around the spellbinding direction of Chris Noonan’s Babe. Babe is a rare family film that was a head competitor at the Academy Awards, losing to the (in my opinion) inferior Braveheart. That’s how good this farm fable is. It was the strongest competition Braveheart had. It won the Golden Globe for Best Picture-Comedy or Musical. I used to think it was a slow year. Having given Babe a watch as an adult, I honestly believe it’s the film being fantastic that did the trick. Like the pig of the hour, Babe is easy to misjudge, but hard to disparage once given a shot.
As I said, I have no idea how this film was made. Sure, I get that animatronics of certain animals were used in some shots, and real animals in others. I get that lighting, editing, and camera angles are all used to create the illusion that these animals are interacting with one another (let’s not forget the precise sound mixing and editing, too). I understand all of this. However, I still cannot fully deduce how this film is made. Every little aspect is so precise, that the magic of talking animals truly comes alive. There was no CGI here. This was all physical trickery. So many other productions have animals that can hold human conversations, and it’s an obvious put on (aside from the fact that pigs, dogs and sheep can’t talk). Here, a child may find it hard to believe that they can’t. I’m an adult, and I was blown away by how spot on the animatronics are. It was difficult to even tell between the real and fake animals in some shots.
What also blows me away is how much is done with so little time. With some of the other films reviewed for National Kids Day, I may complain about how these films can be a bit longer, as to tell a more fulfilled story. Look at Babe, folks. This is a family film that does not need to be any longer or shorter. It tells as much story as it has to. We see Babe — an orphaned piglet that gets selected for a carnival contest, and then won by farmer Arthur Hoggett — naively accept that adult pigs get taken away, and piglets can be separated. Babe is not stupid. Babe is only young, and new to the outside world.
Hoggett is similarly a fish-out-of-water: a man of few words who is left behind when it comes to technology. His family gift him and his wife a fax machine; they have no purpose for it. Babe is taken in by Fly (a border collie whose pup children are sold away), and Babe aspires to be a sheep pig (a swine that can herd). A clear moral in Babe is not settling for the roles the world gives us. We also see efforts resulting in issues, including a duck that dreams of being a rooster (that gets rendered unnecessary by the purchase of an alarm clock). The majority of Babe is the desecration of projections and assumptions. This rejection of roles is done pleasantly, charmingly, and adorably. However, the point still comes across in many, non-exhausting ways.
Outside of the high pitched trio of mice (who may be the only completely expendable characters in the film), every storyline boasts a level of complexity. The dogs feel as though they have to be demanding with the sheep. The sheep feel disrespected, yet they assume they have to accept their roles. The cat is the head of the house, and any other creature that makes their way in (outside of the dogs) is encroaching on feline territory. Even the humans have depth: Arthur has a special bond with Babe (perhaps the recognition that they aren’t who they are supposed to be, especially Arthur having to be a farmer towards Babe). His wife, Esme, craves pork for Christmas. Arthur cannot bring himself to fulfilling her wish.
Many events happen in Babe. The quest to remove the alarm clock. The loss of a guardian. The lessons on how to be a sheep pig. The learning about the reason why pigs are even on farms. In less than an hour and a half, Babe goes through many avenues. With the swift editing, Babe is extremely dynamic. This all screams “haste”, but Babe has just the right amount of nearly everything. We don’t quite need to see more after the final shot (outside of an upset cat, perhaps), but we understand how it ends. We get that life on the farm will continue (with or without Pig in the City). We know how the animals ended up responding to one another (including some time to heal some wounds).
The juggling that goes on here confirms why Babe is even remotely Best Picture material. The special effects are still impressive. The story is so to-the-point, and yet depth is not sacrificed. There is a roller coaster of genuine emotions. Babe is a rare childrens film that strives to be something more, can engage adults, and pulls off authentic technical wizardry and pure storytelling. Like a piglet directing sheep into pens, Babe is a creature wonder to behold, even in 2019. That’ll do, Babe. That’ll do.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.