Rapid Response: Babe: Pig in the City

My relative Pat Graham’s capsule review in the Chicago Reader in 1998 for “Babe: Pig in the City” is elegant, bizarre and wonderfully written. He described it to me as a sort of faux-poetry, an alternative approach to reviewing a distinctly alternative film. You can read his whole review here.

And yet Pat said it best to me in person what George Miller’s movie is about. “You watch it, and the film says, Look at this! Look at this! Look at THIS,” he said pointing in every which direction.

I watched it, and sure enough I said, “What’s that? What’s that! What’s THAT?!”

“Babe: Pig in the City” is about as surreal a children’s film as you will ever see. It’s absurd, madcap and overwhelming, and yet the film has an operatic, poetic quality about it that doesn’t fit in the slightest.

The resulting film is a beautiful disaster. It’s colorful, yet cold and disconcerting. It’s chaotic, but not a predictable, boring maelstrom of action. It’s teeming with animals all with dopey dubbed lips, and yet there are so damn many of them that you watch in awe of how much effort this must’ve taken.

The story of the original “Babe” is a straight-forward coming of age story about a pig who makes it as a sheep herding dog, and the second throws the pig and his owner into a city for all cities, rendering them victims to anal cavity searches by the government, vicious biker gangs and conniving, thieving animals trying to get Babe killed.

Thus, any kid watching “Babe: Pig in the City” will have one of two reactions: (1) It is monumentally stupid or (2) it is so hard and unsettling to watch that why would anyone want to? There are images of an adorable duck we admire from the previous film being shot at by a gun club, a bull terrier being hung by the neck and nearly drowned until he is rescued by Babe, and a circus stage show exploding in a glorious fireball to the tune of Edith Piaf’s “Non Je Ne Regrette Rien.” These scenes resonate a devastating hint of death and abandonment, and yet the film is so unbelievably surreal that a more adept viewer might watch in stunned amazement.

The easiest way to put it then is that the film has become a cult film. It has a segmented audience that champions it for how ridiculous it is. Most contemporary art house films however don’t attain cult audiences; their fans are just fans of movies who seek out movies as strange as this.

I consequently did not know how to feel, but knew all too well that I could not bring myself to look away.

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