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BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, 1998
Starring: James Cromwell, Magda Szubanski, Glenne Headly, Mary Stein, Elizabeth Daily and Mickey Rooney
After Babe's great victory in the shepherding contest, Farmer Arthur Hoggett turns down all offers to make money with his pig's talents. But when he gets hurt severely in the well, his wife has to take up farming. She does her best but cannot meet the bank's requirements, which results in the necessity of getting back to Babe. Soon, Esme Hoggett is sitting in a plane headed for "the" city. There, Babe unwillingly causes deep trouble. He has to stay with Mrs. Hoggett in the only hotel in town that accepts pets. Friendly neighbours send officials who catch all animals from the hotel: Cats, dogs, chimpanzees and many others. Babe, who managed to stay free, decides to help his new friends and gets unexpected help - not only by Ferdinand, who flew all the way to the city.
There's a moment in the middle of BABE: PIG IN THE CITY of a cute dog hanging onto a fast moving truck, then getting flown off the truck and landing hard to the ground to his apparent death. A shocking moment for an audience member when assuming you're entering a movie that is geared towards kids. And shocking in any circumstance because no matter if this was an r-rated or even x-rated film, you just don't see animals getting harmed, much less getting killed, in a movie. Five billion human beings can be seen being killed in a movie, but never a dog - as seen in the movie Independence Day, which came out close to the same time as the Babe sequel.
Fear not, the cute dog goes to heaven for a short time but then comes back to life when Babe flips him over to his hind legs. But this moment was frightening even for me, and I'm not a big fan of dogs at all. And I'll always remember my ex-girlfriend being traumatized by this scene and almost needing to leave the theater to calm herself down when seeing this film on opening weekend. It was so shocking, I can still hear the kids crying screams for the rest of my life in that theater when this moment occurred.
Babe: Pig in the City is an excellent film. Perhaps an even better film than its original, and that's saying something. But I wonder what creator George Miller was thinking when he decided to really stretch the g-rated family movie boundaries with this film. Then again, if you have been following Miller's career, you would kind of except this sort of thing. This is the guy who directed all of the Max Mad movies. And him even doing these Babe movies is kind of strange if you really think about it.
I think George Miller had an agenda when he set out to make Babe: Pig in the City. The studios were begging him to make a sequel after the gigantic success of the first film, which was a small budgeted movie that made millions for them. So Miller went ahead and gave them that sequel. Of course he negotiated 10 times the budget of its original, plus complete creative control. And if you follow the movie business you'll know that sequels are made this way. The studios want to cash in on the trademark of a successful film by making another version of it, but of course the creators want more money, plus creative freedom for this exchange. A compromise is made. And what happens it that you get yourself extremely poor films, like say the Rocky sequels, or a classic movie like Godfather 2 and Babe Pig and the City. A family movie that the studios had no godly idea how to market.
So in the fall of 1998 during Thanksgiving weekend, Babe: Pig and the City hit the theaters. Just at the right time too as historically family films always do very well box office wise during this time. But Babe: Pig and the City did far from good in terms of money making for the studio.
Estimated at a budget of over 80 million dollars, the Babe sequel opened at only 6 million and it never even reached 20 million. The studio has reported it lost almost 100 million dollars from this film when you add its marketing budget to the mix as well. What happened?
The critics did there job as this was a universally praised movie. And they were all right on that front because this is an extremely well made film. In fact, there are almost no flaws in this movie as it hits you emotionally on every single level.
But, this is really an adult movie that the studios marketed for kids. And they were really forced to because not many adults are going to see a movie about a bunch of animals living in a hotel in a big city. So when parents took their kids to see this film, there was a gigantic backlash as I'm sure the crying children screams didn't just come from the theater I watched the film in, but in all of the other 2300 theaters it premiered it.
Was this a little f-you from George Miller? Perhaps because in reality this is the perfect film for kids to see. Life is hard, especially for a young animal or mammal entering the life of a big city. Babe: Pig in the City is the Midnight Cowboy for kids films. The only thing that's different is that Babe doesn't die on a bus ride to Florida in the end. And perhaps kids should be seeing a movie like this more than any other animation film that the studios spit out year after year.
So I wonder how this film will hold up in say 50 years from now. Perhaps kids will be more evolved then and will be able to handle the story line of this film. I like to think it can as we perhaps coddle our kids too much in the western world.
Amazing film though that Babe: Pig in the City is. I hope many parents have shown their kids the film in the home movie world where they can pause and fast-forward when need be.