March 4, 2016

filmsgraded.com:
Babe: Pig in the City (1998)
Grade: 47/100

Director: George Miller
Stars: Magda Szubanski, Mary Stein, Mickey Rooney

What it's about. The curious sequel to the sleeper family favorite Babe (1995). Despite its "G" rating, it is a dark and somewhat depressing movie, although it inevitably works its way into a happy ending. No animals die during the course of the movie.

The plot begins where Babe left off. Babe is the champion sheepherder pig, and his proud adoptive farmer parents remain James Cromwell and Magda Szubanski. The latter gets more screen time, as Cromwell's character is laid up with a well injury for most of the movie. The family farm declines and is about to be seized by bankers.

Szubanski responds by taking Babe on a plane flight to a fair to collect an appearance fee, but things quickly go wrong. A connection is missed, Babe and owner stay at a hotel full of animals, then Szubanski somehow causes a street riot and ends up in jail. Babe becomes a worker in the stage act of eccentric Mickey Rooney. He dies, and his funeral is attended by the hotel owner, Mary Stein.

This leaves the hotel animals unattended. They are hungry and at each other's throats, although new arrival Babe (voiced by Elizabeth Daily) calms them, with the help of a bull terrier (v.b. Stanley Ralph Ross). Ferdinand (v.b. Danny Mann), the paranoid duck from the first movie, shows up, as do the three singing mice. Also at the hotel are various cats and dogs, and an ape family consisting of a chimpanzee couple (v.b. Glenne Headley and Steven Wright) and a well-dressed orangutan (James Cosmo).

How others will see it. Babe: Pig in the City drew mixed reviews. Famously, Gene Siskel proclaimed it as the best movie of the year. It picked up an Oscar nomination (Best Song), a BAFTA nod (Best Special Effects), and a Saturn Awards nomination (Best Fantasy Film).

Today at imdb.com, it has a lukewarm 25K user votes (its universally praised predecessor has 90K votes) and a blah user rating of 5.8 out of 10. There is a spread among age groups, though, spanning 5.6 under age 30 to 6.4 over age 45. More than 20% of viewers give the movie an 8 or higher, and the film has a reasonable following, as demonstrated on the imdb message boards.

Often called one of the greatest box office flops in the history of Universal Studios, the movie had a budget of 80M and an American theatrical gross of 20M. But it did better overseas, grossing 70M, and when video sales and rentals, and television showings are thrown in, the movie has probably made money by now.

How I felt about it. Babe: Pig in the City is mostly watchable, aside from an interminable scene which has Szubanski bouncing around a posh ballroom in an inflatable fat suit. The movie could be considered risky, since it is much darker than the family-friendly (and far superior) Babe. Imagine a Peanuts movie where the gang becomes trapped in a child labor camp.

George Miller, the man behind the Mad Max franchise, also controls the movie rights to Babe, who originated in a children's book written by Dick King-Smith. Miller also made the Happy Feet movies. He certainly has an imagination, and values his artistic integrity. But that doesn't make Babe: Pig in the City a successful comedy. Actually, I don't recall laughing once, from either viewing of the film.

A failure as a comedy, the Babe sequel works better as a costly, surreal morality tale about the hard knocks of life. Babe doesn't end up served as a pork dinner, but things almost become as bleak and scary. One can appreciate the work that went into the sets, costumes, and animal training. Nonetheless, there are a vast number of films that are both more deserving and rewarding.