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'Babe': Ham in a Jam

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 25, 1998

  Movie Critic

Babe: Pig in the City
The pink porker continues his adventures in "Babe: Pig in the City." (Universal)

Director:
George Miller
Cast:
James Cromwell;
Elizabeth Daily;
Matt Parkinson;
Mary Stein;
Magda Szubanski
Running Time:
1 hour, 36 minutes
G
Emotionally harrowing
Nobody makes bacon out of the little ham, but the G rating of "Babe: Pig in the City" isn't exactly kosher.

Unlike the warm, whimsical original "Babe" set on the Hoggetts' family farm, the darkly funny sequel takes place on the mean streets of a fantastically inventive but foreboding fairy tale city. Life there is a daily struggle for the dogs, cats and other urban creatures that have been alley-born or abandoned by their humans. Not that the humans themselves fare much better.

Babe (voice by E.G. Daily) and the farm lady, Mrs. Hoggett (Magda Szubanski), have traveled to this faraway dystopia after our snout-hearted hero causes Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) to fall down a well and wind up in traction. They have a plan to save their heavily mortgaged acreage. They come much closer to buying the farm. Though bound for a state fair to collect a performance fee, the two are detoured to this bizarre, "Brazil"-like Oz, where they befriend a troupe of circus monkeys, a chorus of cats and a disabled terrier in a doggie wheelchair.

Streetwise, surly, neurotic: The creatures of this concrete jungle aren't as lovable as Babe's barnyard buddies. They're like sophisticated noir versions of the characters in "Lady and the Tramp"; they sound like jaded molls and mobsters. A pink poodle who relies upon the kindness of strangers clearly spent some time chasing "A Streetcar Named Desire."

George Miller, who produced and co-wrote "Babe," left it to Chris Noonan to direct the 1995 Best Picture nominee. But Miller, who created the "Mad Max" franchise, takes the camera into his own hands here with results that are technically sublime, but emotionally harrowing.

"Babe" didn't shrink from humankind's appetite for sausage links or other unpleasant realities, but "Pig in the City" is a far Grimmer tale, involving homelessness, starvation and attempted infanticide. In one instance, a hungry street kitten tearfully recalls, "My human tied me in a bag and throwed me in the water."

In another, a pit bull becomes entangled in its leash and tumbles from a bridge, where he seemingly hangs till dead. Though the plucky porker comes to the rescue, the scene is far too long and too macabre for adults, much less wee viewers.

Still, along with Ferdinand the duck, the singing mice are back with an expanded repertoire, which includes Edith Piaf's "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" and Elvis's "Are You Lonesome To-night?" Thanks to a marvelous combination of animatronic muppetry, computer wizardry and the human actors who give them voices, the Lionel Barrymore of pigs and his ark-load of sidekicks really do seem to be talking.

This is hardly your same old trough of slop. Babe nonetheless prevails, demonstrating once again "how a kind and steady heart can heal a sorry world."

   
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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