Filmsite Movie Review
Babe (1995)
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Babe (1995) is first-time director Chris Noonan's Best Picture-nominated storybook animal tale and family film. It remains a charming, sweet, delightful and intelligent fairy tale and a comic-dramatic allegory, based on the 1983 kid's book The Sheep-Pig by British author Dick King-Smith, from an adapted script by Noonan and co-producer George Miller. Despite being aimed at mostly young audiences (and told from a child's POV), this film consistently remained intelligent but was sometimes quite dark for a children's film.

The magical, episodic tale with its profound theme of tolerance (and breaking free from prescribed social categories) was told in storybook fashion. There were numerous chapters introduced by title cards that were read outloud by a trio of singing mice in a Greek chorus. The mice often appeared in a bulls-eye shaped iris below the titles. In some instances, the mice sang: "Blue Moon," "Votre Toast" (a Georges Bizet aria in French from the opera Carmen), and Scott Fitzgerald's lyrics to "If I Had Words."

The story was about how young, precocious, pure-hearted pink piglet Babe, raised by sheepdogs and daring to be different (and challenging the status quo and his "proper place" in life as a pig), learned to politely and kindly herd sheep to avoid being killed for human food. The universality of the film's idyllic locale was a combination of rural England, the Australian countryside, and the American farming Mid-west.

Some who saw the film were very moved and morally challenged to change their perspectives and viewpoints after watching anthropomorphized farm animals with emotions, beliefs and desires. The opening sequence in particular was the most effective segment, with its dark portrayal of the pork industry and its pig farms, and the cruel fate of adorable porcines and other oppressed farm animals (chickens, sheep, cows, etc.), raised only as "meat" to be consumed by the public. The so-called "Babe Effect" turned many of the film's viewers into life-long vegetarians.

The film's principal tagline was:


This Australian-made "sleeper" was a critical and financial success - a rare family film to earn an Academy Award Best Picture nomination (it had a total of an amazing seven Oscar nominations, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing), with an Oscar win for Best Visual Effects. On a budget of $30 million, the film grossed $63.6 million (domestic) and $254.1 million (worldwide).

The film utilized realistic, Oscar-winning computer effects (animatronics and puppets, and digital-enhancement or CGI mostly for mouth movements, by Jim Henson's Creature Shop and others), along with real pigs and border collies, to portray remarkable talking animals, including:

  • Fly and Rex, border collie Sheepdogs
  • Ferdinand the Duck (a rascal who thought he was a rooster to spare being eaten)
  • the elderly ewe Maa
  • the Persian house cat Duchess
  • a trio of singing mice
  • and of course, the runty, orphaned piglet Babe

The original film was followed by a less well-received sequel, Babe: Pig in the City (1998).

Plot Synopsis

Film's Opening Sequence: Sows Taken to Market, and a Young Orphaned Runty Piglet:

The film's opening was a harrowing voice-over account (by off-screen melodious Narrator Roscoe Lee Browne) at a gigantic Australian hog farm where pigs were being loaded up into a truck to be taken away to market ("pig paradise"):

"This is a tale about an unprejudiced heart, and how it changed our valley forever.

There was a time not so long ago, when pigs were afforded no respect except by other pigs. They lived their whole lives in a cruel and sunless world. In those days, pigs believed that the sooner they grew large and fat, the sooner they'd be taken into pig paradise....A place so wonderful that no pig had ever thought to come back...

So when the day came for their parents to go to that other world of endless pleasures, it was not a time for young pigs to be sad. Just another step towards the day when they, too, would make the journey."

It would be assumed that the title character - a runty little piglet yet unnamed, had been orphaned when his sow-mother was taken away to market by a SUNNY VALLEY MEATS company truck. The many large sows taken to market were replaced by an impersonal, robotic milk-feeding machine. One small piglet from a doomed sow's litter was randomly selected:

"Perhaps it was because he was alone. Perhaps his sadness made him easier to catch. Whatever the reason, of the thousands of animals in the piggery that day, only one was chosen."

The County Fair's "Guess the Weight" Contest - Won by Farmer Hoggett:

"The worthless little runt" became the centerpiece of a Lion's Club "Guess My Weight" contest at the local county fair held in the countryside. Representatives from the Lion's Club (Hec Macmillan and Ken Gregory) suggested to fairgoers to participate. A lanky, rural Australian Farmer Arthur H. Hoggett (James Cromwell), a gentle-minded man of few words, approached and responded: "Don't keep pigs." He was enticed by promises that the animal would fatten up nicely in time for Christmas dinner ("Christmas day. Think of it. What a feast!"). However, Hoggett petted the pig: "That'll do, piggy," and picked up the squirming, pink piglet. The Narrator described how Farmer Hoggett and the piggy (now suddenly quiet) were fated to come together - as they stared intently at each other:

"The pig and the Farmer regarded each other. And for a fleeting moment, something passed between them. A faint sense of some common destiny."

Hoggett was encouraged to guess the piglet's weight, and accurately revised his estimate after it peed on his shoes: ("Sixteen pounds, five-...two ounces").

Awaiting the call the next day, Farmer Hoggett was constructing a meticulously-detailed doll house. His plump wife Mrs. Esme Hoggett (Magda Szubanski) was anticipating a great big dinner of roast pork: "Just think. Two nice hams. Two sides of bacon. Oh, and pork chops, kidney, liver, chitlins, pickle his feet." A phone call came in, notifying Farmer Hoggett that he had the winning entry in the fair contest. The sad and lonely piglet became his property.

Episode 1: "Pigs are definitely stupid":

The young porker was brought back to Farmer Hoggett's farm and put in the barn - as the farm animals spoke about the new arrival. With her playful, extremely-curious sheepdog puppies, a motherly Border Collie Sheepdog named Fly (voice of Miriam Margolyes) expressed her initial negative opinion toward the piglet. She felt superior to the other animals, and told her puppies about the farmyard's social hierarchy:

"They'll eat him when he's big....The bosses only eat stupid animals, like sheep and ducks and chickens....Not as stupid as sheep, mind you, but pigs are definitely stupid."

In the barn, when asked by Fly to identify itself, the piglet stated its breed ("Large White"), not its name. After Fly asked: "What's your name?...What did your mother call you to tell you apart from your brothers and sisters?", the piglet replied: "Our mom called us all the same...She called us all Babe." Thus, the piglet was given the name of Babe (voice of Christine Cavanaugh).

When the disconsolate Babe piteously cried out: "I want my Mom!", Fly compassionately comforted Babe:

"There, there, You've got to be a brave boy now. I left my mother when I was your age, and my pups will have to leave me soon. But I'll keep an eye on you, if you like, just 'til you find your feet. The little pig's a bit low. He's going to sleep with us, just 'til he finds his feet."

Fly's stern, bullying and gruff-voiced partner Rex (voice of Hugo Weaving), the leader of the farm animals, voiced his disapproval, but allowed Fly (and her puppies) to pamper Babe for just a short while "until he finds his feet."

Episode 2: "The way things are":

In a hilarious sequence, the next day at dawn, Ferdinand the Duck (voice of Danny Mann) raced to take the place of the farm's real Rooster (voice of Paul Livingston) by competing to crow the wake-up call "Doodle-loo-dee-doo" as early as possible. The Duck's objective - to save himself from the chopping block - was to show his usefulness and not become obsolete. Mrs. Hoggett sat up in bed, aggravated by the Duck's strange quacking: "We've got to do something about that duck."

Babe was informed by Fly's puppies about Ferdinand's identity crisis:

"He's a duck. He wants to be a rooster. He hates being a duck."

At morning feeding time for the dogs, Babe was warned by Fly that pigs were forbidden in the Farmer's house: "Only dogs and cats inside the house...That's just the way things are." Mrs. Hoggett fed Babe separately outside with table-scraps, and gloated:

"Ooh, what a spectacular feast I've got for you. Oh, yes! What a lucky little pork chop you are. Dee-delicious! Oh, yes! Yum, yum, yum. Who's gonna grow up to be a big, fat pig? You are! You are! Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum."

Babe also learned that the specific task of the sheepdogs on the farm was to help tend the flocks in the fields outside the farmhouse gate:

"Sheep is animals with thick, woolly coats. And thick woolly heads. And men can't look after them without us.... We have to do dogs' work. You're a pig. Your job is to stay here and eat your food. We'll be back at the end of the day"

Babe turned and ran back to the barn, where he heard the words: "Seems like a sheep's just born to suffer." Through the barn door, Babe was introduced to a sickly and elderly Border Leicester Ewe named Maa (voice of Miriam Flynn) brought in from the fields. He was at first confused and asked: "What are you?" after she told him: "I'm a Ewe." Maa was recuperating - suffering from foot rot and a nasty cough. To Babe's surprise, she cautioned him about the sheepdogs, calling them "wolves" and "brutal savages" for their rough treatment of the sheep. She also advised Babe to steer clear of them:

"... them wolves. Treat you like dirt, they do! Bite you as soon as look at you, those savages!...Some wolves be so bad, they run a sheep down and tear it to pieces.... All them wolves is cruel to sheep. Always have been. Brutal savages! That's what they be. I wouldn't want to see a gentle soul like you mixin' with the likes of them."

After his first momentous day at the farm, Babe was overwhelmed and confused by everything he had learned, as the Narrator summarized (in voice-over):

"That afternoon when he saw Fly, the pig's mind was a tangle of questions. Cruel, vicious, brutal? What was it that dogs did in the fields all day?...The old sheep had to be wrong about Fly. And the pig promised himself that he would never think badly of any creature ever again."

Episode 3: "Crime & Punishment":

The next episode was prefaced by the Narrator's words: "The morning of the terrible crime started like any other on Hoggett Farm." At O'Halloran's Hardware store, Farmer Hoggett had purchased a mechanical alarm clock (with a "nice musical ring") for his wife. "What a splendid way to wake up each morning," she told her husband at 5 AM. On that Sunday morning while the Hoggetts went off to church, Ferdinand had become frantic after seeing that Farmer Hoggett's wife Esme had a new, wind-up alarm clock ("mechanical rooster") positioned at her bedside.

Ferdinand pressured the "extremely gullible" Babe into performing a secret mission for him, as the Narrator described:

"When embarking on an audacious crime, a duck needs a willing accomplice. A creature who is reliable, beyond suspicion, and above all, extremely gullible..."

Ferdinand approached Babe and at first flattered him: "You look like an intelligent, sophisticated, discerning young fella." Ferdinand led the Duck to the farmhouse's second floor, to show him the offending alarm clock through the window, as the Narrator added: "Now the duck knew exactly what he had to do. The alarm clock had to go. His very life depended on it." He offered further instructions - Babe was to sneak into the farmhouse, proceed through a kitchen and living room, and avoid disturbing the Hoggetts' nasty, mean and favored cat Duchess (voice of Russie Taylor), and abscond with the threatening, job-stealing clock in the upstairs bedroom. Babe refused due to the rules: "I don't think I can do it. It's against the rules. Only dogs and cats allowed in the house," but Ferdinand begged:

"I like that rule. It's a good rule, but this is bigger than rules. This is life and death."

Ferdinand convinced Babe that he desperately needed his help - due to the impending danger to his life:

"Humans eat ducks!...Ah, most ducks prefer to forget it, but the fact is that humans like to eat plump, attractive ducks....Humans don't eat cats - why?...They're indispensable: they catch mice. Humans don't eat roosters - why? They make eggs with the hens and wake up everyone in the morning.... I tried it with the hens: it didn't work. So I turned to crowing, and lo! I discover my gift. But no sooner do I become indispensable than they bring in a machine to do the job. Ohhhh-oh-oh. the treachery of it - a mechanical rooster!"

Ferdinand ended his desperate speech with: "I suppose the life of an anorexic duck doesn't amount in the broad scheme of things, but Pig, I'm all I've got!" Ferdinand claimed he couldn't perform the task himself: "I'm allergic to cats. They make me sneeze." Babe promised: "Don't worry. I won't wake the cat." Ferdinand murmured: "My life is in your hands."

At first, Ferdinand watched through the window as Babe entered the house through the doggie-door, and navigated through the living room and avoided Duchess sleeping in front of the fireplace. However, Babe began to botch the theft when he encountered an obstacle course of furniture, Arthur's open paint cans and Esme's balls of yarn on a table. When one of Babe's back feet became entangled in an unraveled yarn string, the frantic Ferdinand entered to untie Babe. He then ordered Babe to stand guard outside as he proceeded up the stairs to perform the mission by himself - confusing Babe, who asked: "But you said you can't do without me." Ferdinand muttered to himself: "Want something done, you gotta do it yourself." However, Babe followed Ferdinand upstairs, and the two were able to abscond with the clock. Downstairs in the living room as they snuck by Duchess a second time, Babe offered advice: "Don't sneeze, Ferdie. Just hold your breath." The mission disastrously failed when Ferdinand sneezed and Babe dropped the alarm clock - causing tremendous commotion.

Upon the Hoggetts' return from church, to their shock, they discovered Duchess covered with paint, Arthur's ruined, hand-made doll-house Christmas present smashed on the floor, and incriminating footsteps left behind of both Babe and the Duck.

In the barn where the animals were assembled for a solemn judicial proceeding led by Rex, he admitted that his leniency toward Babe had failed: "It was my mistake. I was trying to loosen things up a little. But, no. Today proves that it doesn't work." A very ashamed Babe (covered in blue paint) was given strict orders by Rex to stay away from the farmer's house - and from Ferdinand - who would no longer be allowed to impersonate the Rooster. Babe was also grounded (not allowed to leave the farm area), forbidden to be in the barn, and ordered to sleep outside under an old wagon:

"From now on, we'll all respect the rules. To each creature its own destiny. Every animal in its proper place. And a pig's proper place is under the old cart, not in the barn. And absolutely never in the house. Is that understood?... Now, Pig, regarding the company you keep. Being young, it's hard to discriminate, so I'll make it easy for you. I forbid you to talk to or consort with that Duck, ever. Have I made myself clear?...As for the fugitive duck, when he shows himself, let him know this: Being a duck he must behave like a duck. No more of this crowing and nonsense. He should accept what he is and be thankful for it. That goes for all of us."

The Narrator concluded that the Hoggetts began to seriously consider roasting the mischievous Babe or Ferdinand for Christmas dinner: "Rex continued long into the night. Elsewhere, there was more talk. The subject was Christmas dinner and whether that year the main course would be roast pork, or Duck a l'Orange." With her husband, Esme anticipated a great pork feast: "And pork is a nice, sweet meat. Then there's the crackling. That always adds interest and texture."

The next day, Babe was summoned back into the barn by the puppies, where he ominously (but obliviously) observed sharp meat hooks, a butcher's axe and a wall plaque with the adage: "WHAT YOU EAT TODAY WALKS AND TALKS TOMORROW" - in other words, you are what you eat.

Ferdinand briefly reappeared and spoke to Babe, who suddenly realized that he was already breaking one of Rex's many new rules by speaking to Ferdinand. The two culprits decided to not report each other: Ferdinand: "You didn't see me, all right?" and Babe: "And I didn't see you. All right?" Afterwards, Esme began to fatten up Babe in anticipation of the holidays.

Outside the Hoggett's farm, two signs were posted: "PRIZE-WINNING HOMEMADE PRESERVES FOR SALE, JAMS, CHUTNEYS, MARMALADE," and "HAND SPUN WOOL, BLACK, WHITE, BRINDLE." The Farmer was posting an additional sign, offering "Twice National Champion" Fly's sheepdog pups FOR SALE, as the Narrator commented:

"The time comes for all creatures when childhood ends and the doorway opens to life as an adult. And so it was with Fly's pups. Though that time was all too soon for Fly."

Fly was very saddened and heartbroken about the loss of her offspring, and watched as three of her pups were purchased by a neighboring family. Babe allowed himself to be adopted as her foster son to comfort her: ("Fly, may I call you Mom?"). The Narrator mentioned:

"And so it was that the pig found his place in the world of the farm. And he was happy even in his dreams."

Episode 4: "Pork is a nice sweet meat":

As the Christmas holidays approached, the animals observed the Christmas festivities and decorations at the Hoggett's farmhouse, as the relatives arrived:

  • their son-in-law (Paul Goddard)
  • the Hoggetts' daughter (Zoe Burton), their son-in-law's wife
  • two children (Wade Hayward and Brittany Byrnes), the Hoggetts' grand-children

Mrs. Hoggett beamed: "Guess what we're having for Christmas dinner. Roast pork, but the spoiled grand-child replied: "I hate pork." Ferdinand sat on the rotating weathervane on the rooftop and quacked his fears that one of the animals - either Babe or himself - might wind up on the "Christmas" dinner table.

"The cat says they call it Christmas. Christmas dinner, yeah. Dinner means death. Death means carnage! Christmas means carnage!"

Babe had grown larger and was being sized up by Mrs. Hoggett's tape measure for the Christmas meal. Maa was aghast: "Eatin' pigs! Blaah! Barbarians!" Now that she had recovered, Babe realized that Maa was being returned to the fields, as she regretted there weren't more empathic animals like Babe: "Oh, young'un, tragic there ain't more of your kind. I'll be thinkin' of ya always." Babe also sang: "La, la, la" to the tune of "Jingle Bells."

The Narrator spoke: "And so, it was Christmas Eve. And time had run out for the pig." Fortunately for his sake, Babe was spared from becoming Xmas dinner. Farmer Hoggett babbled to his wife with an excuse that Babe would be better as a prized, fattened-up ham at the next year's county fair:

"Shame to miss out on the best ham prize at next year's fair is all. Nice plump haunches he's gettin'. Beautiful. Silly to wait, I suppose."

Ominous footsteps were heard as the Farmer approached the barn, and there were a few loud quacks before one heard a tremendous "THWACK!" - the beheading of a duck. On Christmas Day, the animals gathered at a farmhouse window to watch as Ferdinand's duck girlfriend Rosanna (with "a beautiful nature") was being served as Duck L'Orange. There was a close-up of the animals observing as a knife sliced into the juicy duck meat (decorated with orange slices) on the dinner table. The sight prompted Ferdinand to express his existential fears to the Cow (voice of Charles Bartlett):

Ferdinand: "I can't take it anymore...The fear's too much for a duck. It - it eats away at the soul! There must be kinder dispositions in far-off gentler lands."
Cow: "The only way you'll find happiness is to acceptthat the way things are is the way things are."
Ferdinand: " 'The way things are' stinks!"

Ferdinand decided to escape from the farm: ("I'm not gonna be a goner, I'm gone. I wish all of you the best of luck...I''m a clever duck. I could do with an adventure"). Babe was asked to open the gate for Ferdinand, thus launching the Duck high into the air. Babe perked up his ears - it was the film's first indication that Babe was capable of something beyond his 'pig nature' when he sensed that something was wrong outside the farm's gates on Christmas Day. He heard desperate bleatings of Hoggett's nearby flock of sheep. The Narrator commented:

"The pig knew it was against the rules to leave the farm. But something was definitely wrong."

Against orders, Babe left the farm area to investigate unusual bleating noises: "At any other time, the pig would've been tickled pink by his first visit to the sheep fields. But now there was fear in the air. Maa and her kind were under threat." Babe noticed that a sheep rustler (Nicholas Lidstone) was stealing Farmer Hoggett's sheep, including Maa, and loading them onto a truck. Babe asked Maa: "Maa! What's happening? Who are these men?" Babe was chased off by the rustlers' dog Sniff, as he realized again that something wasn't right: "Where's our Boss? It doesn't seem right."

Meanwhile, during the exchange of Christmas gifts, the Hoggetts were given a fax machine - both were a bit intimidated by the modern gadget to be used to exchange letters. The young grand-daughter received a beautiful, repaired, hand-crafted doll-house made by the hard-working craftsman Arthur. However, she cried and was upset that it wasn't the one she had seen advertised on television: ("It's the wrong one. I want the house I saw on the television!").

Babe ran back to the farm and alerted Fly (and Hoggett) to the problem. Fortunately, the in-progress theft was averted, and Maa and some of the sheep were saved. The Farmer patted both Fly and Babe: "Good dog. Good pig." Fireworks lit up the night sky on New Years' Eve. The children were informed by their father that the "little porker" Babe had become a watch-pig. Mrs. Hoggett exclaimed: "If it's not a duck that thinks it's a rooster, it's a pig that thinks it's a dog!"

The three mice sang: "Blue Moon" before the transition to the next chapter or episode.

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