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A piglet won by Farmer Hoggett as a raffle prize is raised by Fly, the matriarch sheepdog, as one of her own. His owner senses something special in Babe and makes sure he learns sheep herding along with his new brothers. Babe proves so adept, in fact, that Farmer Hoggett enters him in the world sheepdog championship!
For more about Babe and the Babe Blu-ray release, see Babe Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 30, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: James Cromwell, Magda Szubanski, Christine Cavanaugh, Miriam Margolyes, Danny Mann, Hugo Weaving
Director: Chris Noonan
» See full cast & crew
Babe Blu-ray Review
Talk to the animals.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 30, 2011
Humans have been anthropomorphizing animals since time immemorial. What is it about Mankind that wants to project human emotions, thoughts and, yes, even speech onto these "alien" beings with whom we share this planet? Is it some attempt to understand creatures who may in fact be radically different than we are, and at the very least quite different than we think they are? Any pet owner will most likely sheepishly admit to "seeing" happiness or sadness on his or her pet's face, and if they're suitably enthusiastic enough, they may even profess to "know" what their pet is thinking. And so it's little wonder that the media has also been filled to the brim with human-like animals, often dogs or cats or horses or mules who talk and think just like we do. From Snoopy to Francis to Marmaduke to Scooby-Doo to Mr. Ed to Flipper to. . .well, the list is seemingly endless. But a pig? Well, pigs have proven their multimedia savvy (so to speak) for ages, as well, with "starring" turns in everything from Animal Farm to, perhaps more charitably, Charlotte's Web. But British author Dick King-Smith crafted a sweet little fairy tale in the 1980's entitled The Sheep-Pig which, like all good fairy tales, cloaked some very grown up lessons in a suitably childlike world of talking farm animals. In 1995 King-Smith's little tale was adapted as the film Babe, a film which rather improbably became a worldwide phenomenon and managed to garner a handful and a half of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Babe is undeniably big hearted, an ode to anyone who has ever yearned to be or do something they've been told they're "ineligible" for by dint of their nature, race or other personal identifiers. Babe is a pig who more or less thinks he's a sheepdog, and that in essence is the entirety of the film Babe. Not much there? Think again. This is one of the sweetest, most genuine films of the past 20-odd years. It's simple, yes, but that simplicity is one of its greatest strengths. Babe is a like a pop-up storybook come magically to life, and it manages to convey some unexpectedly great truths about human—and animal—nature within its brightly colored surroundings.
Like any good fairy tale, there's a nightmarish element to Babe, and that is summed up in the slightly horrifying prelude, where we see modern farming techniques, techniques which preclude the animals from ever seeing the light of day, as they're fed until it's time for the slaughter. The naïve pigs believe they're being led off to a sort of paradise, a place so wonderful it's no wonder none of the evacuees is ever heard from again. Newborn Babe seems to sense it may not exactly be true, and sheds some large tears for his mother, who is led off with the other adult pigs in a truck branded "Meats."
And there destiny steps in and saves Babe from a fate he only slightly suspects he's in for. He becomes a carnival prize where he's won by taciturn Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell in his Academy Award nominated performance). Hoggett correctly guesses the piglet's weight and brings his prize home where it's initially planned Babe will be Christmas dinner. Fate once again intervenes, as it frequently does throughout this film, and Babe gets to grow up in the sylvan setting of the Hoggett farm, a place full of slightly wacky ducks, a lot of gossipy sheep, a nurturing border collie named Fly and her imperious husband Rex, and various other squeaking, squawking and generally declaiming animals of all shapes and sizes.
In fact the human element takes a decided backseat to the animal antics for the bulk of Babe. This is a film which posits that even animals have their assigned duties and roles in life, and woe to anyone who parts from the societal norm. As three miniature (and musical) mice giggle and introduce each section of the film via interstitials, the mere fact that Babe is "a pig who thinks he's a dog" is the subject for much animal hilarity around the farm. But much like Happy Feet, an animated film which rather hilariously raised the ire of a certain homophobic element which insisted it was fostering a gay lifestyle (who knew?), Babe simply wants to encourage the underdog (and/or underpig) to pursue his heart's desire and do what he feels he's called to do.
Babe is not a film of laugh out loud hilarity, though there are several extremely comic moments, including some absolutely daffy byplay by Hoggett's wife, Esmé (Magda Szubanski). This is instead a remarkably gentle little film which is surprisingly touching and heartfelt. It doesn't have an ounce of cynicism anywhere in its body, and that is such an incredibly refreshing thing in any modern film that it makes Babe, like its title hero, a very, very unique property. There's nothing arch, no irony, so self-reflexive winking, nothing but a simple and emotionally charged story with some equally gentle laughs along the way.
Part of what helps to make Babe so effective is the spectacular use of then high-tech wizardry to make the animals speak and move believably. A featurette shows the involved computer modeling that was required to animate the animals' mouths, but there are also a slew of animatronics and other robots courtesy of Jim Henson and several other companies that elevate Babe above the typical barnyard stock in trade. Contributing to the film's "realism" (obviously a relative term) perhaps even more than the lifelike mouth movements is the impeccable addition of human expression to the various beastly faces, something which is accomplished with an absolute minimum of artifice.
I hadn't seen Babe in many, many years when I revisited it for this review, and I was struck again by just how much emotion this unapologetically "small" film packs into its 90 minute or so running time. It's hard not to fall instantly in love with adorable little Babe, but that's really not the crowning factor in this film. It's the relationships which are portrayed, whether they be between the animals, or between Hoggett and his prize "sheep-pig", that make Babe such an exceptional experience.
Babe Blu-ray, Video Quality
Is Babe on Blu-ray a silk purse or a sow's ear? Delivered via an VC-1 encode in 1080p and 1.85:1, for the most part, this is a nicely silken journey that offers really beautifully saturated color that helps to make the candy coated looking world of the Hoggett Farm come vibrantly alive. Greens are especially resplendent in this transfer. Fine detail is often extremely good. Some of the opening shots of the piglets reveal a whole new level of fine hair on their smooth little bodies, and the initial close-up of Hoggett meeting Babe also brims with abundant detail. Some of the midrange shots of the countryside suffer from some very minor noise issues, and those same midrange shots are sometimes slightly gauzy in appearance. Some of the backlit countryside shots reveal edge enhancement, but grain is natural looking and intact. Aside from these passing qualms, this is a very nice looking Blu-ray and a considerable upgrade from the SD-DVD.
Babe Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Babe's soundtrack isn't a typical summer blockbuster "wow" offering, but on its own relatively quieter terms, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track on this Blu is perfectly cinematic and does feature quite a bit of involving immersion. From the first haunting squeals of the "modern farming" pigs to the more sylvan ambient environmental noises of the Hoggett Farm, Babe's soundtrack is alive with various noises which are nicely posited around the soundfield. Voicework is excellent throughout the film and is delivered with sterling fidelity. The sweet underscore, including James Cromwell's now iconic singing, is also presented with excellent fidelity. There's not an abundance of low end in this track, certainly by design, but it's nonetheless a well proportioned and enjoyable sonic experience.
Babe Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Babe Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
When a film is this unabashedly sweet, it's well nigh impossible not to give in to its charms. Babe has no pretensions about being Art with a capital A, but what a lovely, unassuming little film it is, one which will easily delight children while providing a heartstring tugging moment or two for the adults as well. It's almost mind boggling to think that Babe is the filmic brainchild of the same man who brought us the Mad Max films, but perhaps this was George Miller's way of paying penance. To paraphrase Farmer Hoggett, this Blu-ray "will do" just fine and Babe comes Highly recommended.
Babe: Other Editions
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Babe Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Universal Announces Babe, Peter Pan 2003, Double Feature Blu-ray - December 20, 2010
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced two catalog titles from the family genre for Blu-ray release on April 5: Babe (Chris Noonan, 1995) and Peter Pan (P.J. Hogan, 2003). Previously, on March 22, the studio will re-release a dozen of its already available ...
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