The Hollywood barnyard is jam-packed this time of year. And it’s a mess.
“Batman, Robin! Stop picking on Pocahantas! She’s trying to eat.”
“Yo, Apollo - this isn’t ‘Pigs in Space.’ Get that silly helmet off your snout.”
“Sheesh, look at Waterworld wallowing in the mud pit: Have you ever seen a newborn so bloated and grimy?”
The barnyard’s a brutal place. Every creature in it remembers how promising that porker named Dredd was judged upon its arrival - and how quickly it starved. And a couple even recall a cute little talking piglet named Gordy who got crushed in the loading gate early this season.
This week’s feed-lot shipment includes a hungry little contender that’s wiggling past its fatter, lazier compadres to get time at the box office trough.
“Babe’s” the name, and with a herd of special effects experts in tow, it just might be the kids’ sleeper hit of the summer.
The new movie bears more than a passing resemblance to “Gordy,” the late spring bomb about a talking porker who takes Branson, Mo., by storm. After all, a porcine thespian can only do so much.
But “Babe” has a more reasonable goal (its hero only wants to learn how to herd sheep, not take over the corporate world), a bigger budget and an intrepid collection of puppet- and computer-driven effects that seamlessly give every animal its say - there are no lip-flapping Mr. Ed scenes here.
The little guy starts his journey at the requisite big, bad corporate pig farm, where he’s judged a runt and sent off into the real world. He lands in rural Australia with a husband-and-wife farm team, the Hoggetts (James Cromwell and Magda Szubanski), who pour on the slop to get their new recruit into playing shape by Christmas.
A hog’s life isn’t enough for our hero, though, and he becomes the surrogate son to a lonely mama dog, shaking up the farm’s established animal order, dodging the butcher’s knife and eventually earning the title “sheep-pig.”
His impressive array of pals on this fantasy farm - where there’s never a trace of … ahem … waste - include Ferdinand, a crowing duck who longs to be a rooster; Fly, the sheepherding matriarch who takes Babe under her wing (voiced by Miriam Margolyes); musical mice and a villainous cat. And although he’s low on the animal totem pole, the little pig with the shocking shock of brown hair (toupee alert!) gets across several low-key lessons about overcoming prejudice and fulfilling ambitions.
Granted, this all sounds pretty silly. But producer/co-screenwriter George Miller (yes, the same one who brought us “Mad Max”) and first-time director Chris Noonan manage to create a fairytale world that’s believable yet fantastic, where the buildings have character, the taciturn farmer erupts in a gleeful jig and the mice croon “Blue Moon.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Babe” Locations: Lincoln Heights, Newport and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Chris Noonan, starring James Cromwell, Magda Szubanski, Christine Cavanaugh, Miriam Margolyes, Danny Mann Running time: 1:31 Rating: G
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