Academy Award winner and Best Picture nominee Babe is the inspirational story of a shy Yorkshire piglet who doesn’t quite know his place in the world. But when Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) wins him at the county fair, Babe discovers that he can be anything he wants to be-even an award-winning sheepdog! With the help of a delightful assortment of barnyard friends, the heroic little pig is headed for the challenge of his life in this endearing and fun-filled tale the whole family will love.
eyelights: Babe. Ferdinand. Farmer Hoggett. its message. its delivery. its epic score.
eyesores: the dated cgi lip-movement. some of the puppet work.
1995’s ‘Babe’ is the one movie that I feel truly got cheated out of an Academy Award.
There, I’ve gone on record publicly. I’ve always said that ‘Braveheart’ was an overrated, cliché-ridden film, incorporating prejudice and such a weak female lead that it could only be dismissed as a token love interest. It didn’t deserve to win on its merits alone, and it certainly didn’t stand up to the competition, which also included ‘Apollo 13’, ‘Il Postino’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’.
Admittedly, it was a weak year.
Still, ‘Apollo 13’ should surely have fended off attacks from Mel Gibson’s middle-of-the-road period piece with relative ease. And, as far as I’m concerned, ‘Babe’ should effortlessly have won over the Academy with its heart and masterful presentation; it is, in my opinion, the best family film ever made. Period. Bar none. (And, no, I did not grow up on it, so it’s not nostalgia talking.)
But Mel Gibson was a shining star in the mid-’90s, and I suppose that his stardom blinded the Academy: he won both the Best Picture and Director statuettes. Go figure.
Meanwhile, ‘Babe’ was such an astoundingly well-made film that it garnered high praise internationally, being critically acclaimed and also so veritably popular with the public that it ultimately bested even ‘Braveheart’s massive box office numbers. It had connected on a wide level for a reason: it is, by almost any standard, a terrific film – simplistic yet layered with complex issues, grounded yet hopeful, sophisticated and magical.
There are two key elements that make ‘Babe’ so endearing (and, dare I say, moving): 1) its inspirational message, 2) its purity of heart.
1) If ‘Babe’ is anything it’s a movie about acceptance and tolerance; it’s an anti-prejudice film. Personally, I’ve always felt that it ably portrayed gay and transgendered rights in the form of a pig who is discriminated against for being a sheep dog, and via the duck who decides to be a rooster. It may not have been intended that way, but this is how I translated these characters.
The fact is that ‘Babe’ can reflect the plight of any person who pursues a non-traditional lifestyle or does not fit in with the status quo. It’s about peer pressure and the will to push through it to succeed on one’s own term. Further to that, it’s about learning to accept people for who they are, not who we wish them to be – as Rex, the farm’s leader, must eventually learn.
It’s also about faith, in the sense of believing in one’s self, in one’s destiny. Babe himself is the primary example of this in that he defies all challenges to his ability to succeed as a sheep-pig; he simply believes that he can, and won’t let others dissuade him. But there is also Farmer Hoggett’s faith in Babe which deserves mention, because he never loses faith in Babe, fighting to give him a chance despite all opposition to the idea – and even despite concerns for his sanity.
To me, there’s anything more heart-warming and courageous as this. And no doubt this resonated with others as well.
2) ‘Babe’ lays all its laurels on the central conceit that being good is doing good for goodness’ sake. It suggests that innocence may sometimes be thought of as naïveté, but that experience doesn’t have to breed cynicism – that good intentions and perseverance can combine to overcome most ills, irrespective of the odds that one faces.
For instance, does Babe balk at defending the sheep when the meaner, larger, dogs are on the attack? No. He defends the flock as best as he can. Does he back off when he is told to leave Rex alone? No. He tries to mend fences with him. Even though Babe isn’t supposed to leave the farm, does he ignore the cries of the flock? No. He finds out what’s happening and then sounds the alert, effectively saving them.
‘Babe’ contends that innocence isn’t ignorance – that it is a path to happiness and self-fulfilment. It also suggests that good intentions will always trump inexperience, and will inevitably pay off in the end. In ‘Babe’, our young hero stumbles, makes mistakes, but keeps trying, winning over even the fiercest opponents along the way.
Some will call it idealistic garbage, but I beg to disagree. It is idealistic, yes, but certainly not garbage. Shouldn’t we want people to define themselves, not be defined by others, to forge their own path all the while being considerate of others? Wouldn’t we want children to be rooted in a belief in themselves and also in the value of others? Wouldn’t we want them to dare to dream instead being bogged down by cynicism?
I know I would, and this is likely why I think that ‘Babe’ is the greatest kids movie I’ve seen (I’d say “ever made”, but that doesn’t allow for the likelihood that I missed one along the way). In my estimation, ,Babe’ succeeds where Disney once did and no longer does: it stimulates the imagination, it breaks down barriers, and it does it without adult cynicism taking hold at any point, or modern touches like sarcasm or superficiality.
To support my assertion that’s it’s a brilliant film, the performances, even by the animals, are all pitch-perfect (aside from the Hoggetts’ kids and grandkids, I must say), the storytelling is flawless, the flow is exactly right, hitting every beat, every mark, the storybook style (complete with chapters, just like a book would have) is exactly right contextually and the music is buoyant, dramatic and playful.
It truly is a perfect package.
My only problem with the film is in the now-dated special effects. While I was once impressed with the way the cgi made the animals’ mouths move, I now find that the dogs aren’t done quite right. And any other cgi additions don’t exactly merge with the rest of the picture. But that’s just a question of outdated technology having been surpassed, much like matting effects or stop-motion animation no longer look good by today’s standards.
Beyond these elements, however, ‘Babe’ is perfect. Sure, it’s a kids movie. Sure, it’s about a talking pig. But you know what? Tough guys running around with guns, surrounded by anorexic girls sexing it up, and backed by explosions galore don’t make a movie great. What makes a movie great is its heart; it’s about its ability to connect the audience with its characters, making us care about them and/or their lives for a couple of hours.
Somehow, ‘Babe’ does exactly that.
‘Babe’ reaches out to the softer side of ourselves, the one that is likely long-lost in time, trapped under years of “real” world experiences. It’s a return to childhood, when everything was new, everything was fresh, and we weren’t afraid to explore and challenge ourselves – before we were told what we could and couldn’t do, should and shouldn’t do, before we got put into a box by our parents, family, and friends. In some ways, it helps us rekindle with our truest selves.
Plus which ‘Babe’ has enough heart for ten motion pictures. And it’s braver than most, too. Damn the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. What the heck do they know?
Date of viewing: June 9, 2013