This Little Piggy... Funny, if scarier, 'Babe' sequel finds the little porker on a mission to save the farm. For fans of the original, this is the real squeal.


A review of "Babe: Pig in the City" in yesterday's Today section incorrectly said that actress E. G. Daily supplied the title character's voice in both the new movie and the original. Daily provided the voice in the latest movie, but Christine Cavanaugh did the voice in the 1995 original.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Admirers of "Babe," the 1995 movie that introduced an uncommonly charismatic Large White Yorkshire pig as a sweet, stout-hearted hero, won't be disappointed by its sequel, even if the new film doesn't quite match its predecessor's wonder and innocence.

In "Babe: Pig in the City," the sunny mood of the Hoggett Farm has been supplanted by darker urban tones, suggesting the arrival of a new cinematic genre: Barnyard Noir.


Scenes of slapstick terror and violence, as well as several cute animals in peril, may render "Pig in the City" too strong for youngsters under 7. But considering the appeal of the grimmest fairy tales to little ones, this movie's moral that goodness goes farther than cruelty at least makes the scary stuff worthwhile.

If there are any humans alive who haven't seen "Babe" they should be rapped severely across the knuckles, but here's a quick refresher: The title character, an orphaned piglet whose destiny was inextricably entwined with apple sauce and rosemary potatoes, was bought by Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) to fatten up.

But once on Hoggett Farm -- which exists, as our narrator says, "just to the left of the 20th century" -- Babe found he had a talent for herding sheep. That film ended with Hoggett's triumph at the local sheep trials, holding Babe aloft to huzzahs and general adulation.

"Babe: Pig in the City" finds Babe (whose beguiling whisper is again provided by actress E.G. Daily) back at the farm, which is under threat of being foreclosed upon by the bank. The only hope is the personal appearance circuit, and the Farmer's Wife (Magda Szubanski) promptly books Babe at a state fair far away.

On their way, a series of cataclysms forces the Boss' Wife and Babe to endure a layover in the big city, where Babe's kind and steady heart is thoroughly tested.

"Pig in the City" introduces Babe to a new menagerie of friends, most of whom live (illegally) in the Flealands Hotel, run by a kind if dotty landlady (Mary Stein). In one room the itinerant circus performer Fugly Floom (Mickey Rooney) stays with his band of nimble-fingered chimpanzees; in another a choir of cats harmonizes euphoniously.

A few of Babe's farm friends come along for the ride: The three-mouse chorus stows away in his suitcase, the better to introduce each chapter of the movie and deliver musical comments on the proceedings (their repertoire here includes squeaky renditions of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" and "That's Amore").

And Ferdinand the neurotic duck follows the Babe's airplane by hitching a ride in the pouch of a commuting pelican. Once Ferdinand sees his porcine friend wearing a spiked collar, he knows what the audience has already figured out: "Pig in the City" is a Babe tale with a decidedly harder edge.

Sometimes too hard. A scene early on when the Farmer's Wife is searched for drugs in the airport isn't funny, and a chase scene in which Babe is pursued through the city's serpentine streets by a tough pit bull terrier ("I have a professional obligation to be malicious") ends in a terrifying climax that recalls Scorsese in its slow-motion drama and operatic soundtrack. A goldfish, two baby monkeys, the pit bull and a Jack Russell terrier are all brought to the brink of death in surprisingly graphic sequences.

But kids are sure to be engaged by the slapstick antics and terrifically expressive group of animals that director George Miller has assembled. The chimps are especially delightful. Comedian Steven Wright gives voice to one of them, the T-shirted Bob, whose malapropisms he delivers in snappy, streetwise cadences. Glenne Headly, reading the role of Bob's wife Zootie, is the perfect, breathy-voiced moll.

Some other wonderful characters include a sympathetic and wise orangutan named Thelonius, a pink poodle who might have been conceived by Tennessee Williams, Flealik the Jack Russell and the pit bull, who becomes Babe's consiglieri. (The efforts of the fine cast are amply aided and embellished by Rhythm & Hues' stunning animatronics, as well as Roger Ford's production design, which smashes notions of time and space with whimsical ingenuity.)

And, of course, there's Babe, or as he would describe himself, "just a pig on a mission." His charms haven't paled even though they are occasionally upstaged by the rough-and-tumble mayhem in which he finds himself. The important thing is that, thanks to his quiet fortitude, all ends well in "Pig in the City," and the barnyard gate is left wide open for another adventure.

'Babe: Pig in the City'

Starring James Cromwell, Magda Szubanski, Mary Stein, Mickey Rooney

Directed by George Miller

Rated G

Running time 96 minutes

Released by Universal Pictures

Sun score ***

Pub Date: 11/25/98

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