I have to admit, I wasn’t Babe‘s biggest fan. The premise was cute, and the speaking-animal effects were well done, but I still maintain that the original film was well over-praised. Which brings us to Babe: Pig in the City, a sequel (of sorts) to Babe. It’s an unusual sequel in that it doesn’t merely try to tell the same story…but is actually markedly different. Unfortunately, different doesn’t always equate to better…
After an accident injures Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell), the Hoggett farm is in serious trouble. Mrs. Hoggett (Magda Szubanski) gathers their famous sheep-pig, Babe (voiced by E.G. Daily), to make a guest appearance at a state fair (where a generous appearance fee will help to save the farm).
Unfortunately, things don’t go quite as planned, and Mrs. Hoggett and Babe end up in the big city (an every-city, blending many world locales). There, the pair are taken in by a kind landlady (Mary Stein), who is kind to animals in a city that shuns them.
But the city is a tough place, and this animal-friendly hotel is no exception. There’s a floor devoted to a thieving clown (Mickey Rooney) and his group of clothes-wearing circus monkeys. There’s a floor for dogs, and a floor for cats. Poor Babe is stuck in the attic, a sheep-pig with no sheep to herd.
Fans of the first film may be pleased that both Ferdinand the Duck (Danny Mann), and the inexplicable singing mice are back for return appearances. However, this time around, James Cromwell’s Oscar-nominated role of Farmer Hoggett is relegated to a mere cameo (as are most of Babe’s friends from the first film).
The new film instead focuses on a new coterie of animals, but few as charming as the original. And while a gangster-like pit bull is entertaining (voiced by Stanley Ralph Ross), many of the new animals lack the strong personalities of the originals.
The special effects have improved since the first film. However, the gimmick of talking animals has long since lost its freshness (having been done to death in television commercials and other movies). Talking animals alone is no longer enough to sustain a movie.
The film’s tone is rather dark and murky at times…but then, if you recall, so was the original (in which the animals were constantly worried about being eaten). But gone is the sense of whimsy which lightened up the first Babe. Instead, this sequel just leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.
The film has its share of oddities, from the strange appearance of pig people (who have apparently escaped from the Island of Dr. Moreau) throughout the movie, to an unusual slapstick climax that doesn’t quite work. The sum of these make the movie unusual and distinctive, but at times the irregularities are borderline distracting.
Still, Babe: Pig in the City deserves some credit for at least trying something new, rather than sticking to the exact same formula as the original. But, in the end, the sequel never lives up to the original, and stands on very shaky ground on its own.