January 17, 2014

Lerman's 14 For '14 Day Eleven - BABE: PIG IN THE CITY. Yes, Really.

"A murderous shadow lies hard across my soul."
Only Lerman would send me from juvenile detention rape and riots directly to a children's movie about a talking pig.  That's the thing about Lerman, he can find genius in the most unexpected of places.

I was old enough that I had aged out of most overtly little kid movies when Babe was released.  I know the first one is beloved by many, but the sequel seemed to fill most fans with disappointment or indifference and I suppose I can understand that reaction.  I still haven't watched Babe, but I'm familiar with the premise: Babe is a pig who lives on a farm and dreams of being a sheepdog.  All the animals can talk (to each other, not to the humans) and the other residents of the farm warn him to give up his foolish goal, but eventually Babe overcomes their doubts and becomes a champion sheep-pig.  I'm sure kids and parents alike were expecting a similarly sweet and charming story in Babe's second adventure.

They weren't counting on George Fucking Miller.

Yes, that's right, Babe: Pig In The City was directed by the same man responsible for Mad Max.    Miller gleefully eschews everything that people loved about that first installment and instead throws that endearing little pork chop into a gothic, subversive alternate reality.  AND IT'S AWESOME.  It becomes clear that something is askew right from the film's opening moments.  James Cromwell's lovable Farmer Hoggett is only present long enough for Babe to accidentally cause a pump motor to fall on him while he's stranded at the bottom of a well.  (I legit thought that Miller was going to violently kill him off five minutes into the movie AND make it all the pig's fault)  Cromwell's crippling creates a financial crisis when the farmer's wife is not able to take care of the property all on her own, so she immediately grabs the pig and heads off to attend a state fair that has promised a generous appearance fee for a demonstration of champion sheep-pigging.  But the pair is detained by DEA agents during an airport layover when Babe chats up a drug-sniffing dog who ends up falsely implicating the farmer's wife as a drug mule.

Again, this is a movie for children.

Babe and Mrs. Hoggett miss their connecting flight and are stranded in The City, whose skyline includes the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the World Trade Center, the Sydney Opera House and the Hollywood sign.  While The City is never explicitly referred to by name, some onscreen signage suggests that the city is called Metropolis, which almost implies that this whole thing is some kind of insane Superman spin-off.  (I like to think this is the version of Metropolis where Nicolas Cage's aborted version of Kal-El would have lived.)  After some helpful advice from a janitor that appears to be some kind of pig mutant, Babe and Mrs. Hoggett end up staying in a bizarre hotel that is largely populated by animals, including a choir of cats, a paraplegic dog in a sweater, and a family of circus chimps who perform for sick children alongside elder clown Uncle Fugly who is played by a drooling and sputtering Mickey Rooney.  (!!!!)  Mrs Hoggett accidentally causes a ruckus on the boardwalk, gets doused with billboard glue and hauled off to jail while Babe gets recruited into the circus act, which includes a lady chimp dressed like a hooker and voiced by Glenne Headley along with her husband who's dressed like a 50's greaser and voiced by, of all people, Stephen Wright.  Babe promptly sets the hospital on fire in his first performance.

I swear to god, I'm not making this shit up.

The humans are largely absent for most of the remainder of the film, in which the chimps try to turn Babe into a patsy while they steal food, only to see Babe save the life of a vicious street dog who looks like Spuds MacKenzie and sounds like Don Corleone.  The Dogfather then instills the pig as the head of the hotel, taking in all the neighborhood strays who are thus forced to give fealty to Babe.  Eventually the Animal Control guys show up and haul most of the animals off, leading to a daring rescue and a wacky climax of destruction in which Mrs. Hoggett, released from jail thanks to a sympathetic judge who is also a pig mutant, ends up bungee jumping from the chandelier of a fancy charity ball while wearing Mickey Rooney's clown pants.

AND THEN IT JUST FUCKING ENDS.

The hotel owner, a woman who looks like an ostrich (were all of these people grown in a lab?) decides to to sell the hotel and take all her animals to the Hoggett's farm, giving them the profits from the sale in order to save the farm from foreclosure.  A now-healthy James Cromwell returns to say "That'll do, pig" and collect his paycheck, and that's the whole shebang.

What.  The.  Fuck.

This thing is dark.  This thing is weird.  This thing is twisted.

I can't wait to show it to my kids.


What's The Connection?  Babe is far less rapey than Dog Pound, but he does end up as the head of a prison-like hierarchy over the neighborhood strays.  But much like Butch and Davis, the good times eventually come crashing down.

Up Next: Little Shop Of Horrors: The Director's Cut


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Title: Babe: Pig In The City
Director: George Miller
Starring: Madga Szubanski, James Cromwell, Mary Stein, Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Daily, Glenne Headley, Stephen Wright, Adam Goldberg
Year Of Release: 1998
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD