Rated G - Running time: 1:37 - Released 11/25/98

Elizabeth Daily (aka E.G. Daily) is certainly keeping her vocal chords busy these days. Boasting a long list of voice credits on her resumé, her childlike warble is featured in two current major motion pictures: The Rugrats Movie (as "Tommy") and Babe: Pig In The City, assuming the title role handed off to her from fellow rugrat Christine Cavanaugh. It's too bad that among all the children's movies now playing in theatres across the country, Daily's are two of the least desirable.

Of course it's not Daily's fault. Her vocal characterization of the perky porker is just as cute as (if not indistinguishable from) Cavanaugh's. And the special effects department is not at fault either. The problem is the script. While Dick King-Smith's novel of 1995's Babe was a funny-yet-touching look at country life, and George Miller's screenplay aptly reflected it, Miller's follow-up paints a bleak picture of humanity. Not to mention, shall we say, animality. Miller also directed this film (with Judy Morris); he obviously has a different vision than Oscar-nominated Babe director Chris Noonan.

The beginning of Babe: Pig is a reiteration of the end of Babe, with a token reappearance by James Cromwell as Farmer Hoggett. The fact that Hoggett is only in about 5 minutes of the film is to its detriment; Magda Szubanski, who plays his wife Esme, was good as a backup character but over her head as the lead human. Esme, who now sports a thick Scottish accent, must travel to the big city with the world-famous pig in order to make some money to fend off foreclosure of the farm. Hoggett, injured in a pig-related accident, must stay home and recuperate. Soon after arriving in "the city" (no name is ever specified, but the view out the hotel window includes several famous world landmarks), the pig and his porcine owner get separated, and each embarks on a series of misadventures involving metropolitan residents whose behavior ranges from inexplicable to downright nasty.

The scenic aspects of Babe: Pig are perhaps the best thing about the film. Beautiful lighting effects and spectacularly ornate set designs provide constant pleasure to the eyes. And, as in Babe the first, the masterful animal effects make it look like the beasts are actually conversing, not only with computer-animated mouth movements that match the soundtrack perfectly, but facial expressions and body language. Obviously the trainers who managed the scores of cats, dogs, primates, and others in the animal cast would have to be painstakingly precise to achieve this kind of subtle expression in the animals' actions and conversations. Another pleasant aspect of the film is the liberal use of Nigel Westlake's song "If I Had Words," based on "Symphony No. 3 in C" by Camille Saint-Saëns and introduced in Babe. Its pretty, haunting melody wanders throughout, providing some needed counterpoint to the film's dark feel.

But the story is one disaster after another, both intentionally and not. The human cast includes Mickey Rooney, who is wasted on a ridiculous clown part, and Mary Stein as a landlady with a peculiar manner and an even more peculiar hair style. Even she, who turns out to be a friend to Mrs. Hoggett, is more unsettling than friendly in everything she does. This is apparently Miller's choice; it falls right in line with his anti-big-city message. All characters, both human and bestial, are suspect--all relationships are of questionable integrity.

While Babe was reminiscent of, say, Charlotte's Web, its sequel is more similar in tone to Batman or Dark City. Who would have thought the adventures of a talking pig could be so scary? ***

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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