The G rating in 1995 was amazing! There's so much blood and death in this movie! Like, it gets pretty gross at times. There are dogs that rip apart sheep. The cat tears up Babe's nose. The constant implication that lovable characters will be eaten by humans is just commonplace! And it's live action! I can't believe what the '90s allowed when it came to the MPAA! I kind of want to do a study on the shifting philosophies of the MPAA...you know, assuming that This Film is Not Yet Rated never existed. G.
DIRECTOR: Chris Noonan
I didn't know how woke children's cinema and television was in the '90s. I mean, I used to get straight up excited to watch Captain Planet and the Planeteers back in the day. I thought it was this really mythology heavy television show about nuanced issues. While I'm probably way more woke than I was oh-so-long ago, watching that show today shows that there wasn't even a whiff of subtlety to that story. Apparently, I was also completely lost on the whole vegan element that makes up Babe.
I'm not going to avoid it: Babe and Charlotte's Web are the same story. Babe has a little bit more time to play with the horrors a young pig must go through, but they both have the exact same conflict. An ignorant pig must find some unique value to avoid being eaten on a farm. I don't know if two separate authors came to the same conclusion about the role of pigs on a farm, but it is there right in the formula. Maybe I don't give much thought to the role of a pig from the pig's perspective. But that's the point of stories like this. With Captain Planet, it's your fault for not picking up on themes. Babe is mostly a guilt trip throughout. The movie introduces the character of Babe in context of being separated from his mother. He's an avatar for nature while he is juxtaposed against something mechanical and cold. From this point on, the story becomes about nature versus civilization. The Hoggetts, even named to parallel Babe's role in society, are wildly skeptical about civilization. But as the story progresses, Farmer Hoggett entrenches himself more in nature while Mrs. Hoggett embraces the fruits of civilization. By embracing Babe's abilities, he denies the technology of a farm. He distances himself from the house, a liminal setting between nature and civilization, and becomes one of the characters of the story.
Early in the story Farmer Hoggett is barely involved in the story. In fact, he's a bit of a threat. He is the one who slaughters the animals. He is distantly removed from that central location. It's once he becomes Babe's surrogate father (although it is tempting to put Rex in that role) that Hoggett finds both real value in Babe and real value in itself. I'm completely putting my own close reading on this film, but I can't help but make the connection that the sequel to this movie is Babe: Pig in the City. The first movie is all about the glory of nature. Since I just stated that the house is a liminal place for Babe, it is interesting that every time that Babe enters the house, whether welcome or no, he gets into trouble. There is a character shift in Babe in these moments. The first example is Babe and Ferdinand breaking the alarm clock, the Macguffin representing technology and civilization. Because the clock is replacing something that ought to come naturally, the crowing of the rooster / duck, these two enter the house and end up accidentally destroying it. It's the funnier of the two sequences, although it weirdly creeped out my son, who finds funny things scary from time-to-time. But the destruction of the house is very revealing of the Hoggetts' attachment to dominance. If civilization gives man dominion over the animals, the thing that separates Farmer Hoggett from the rest of the animals is the house. When Ferdinand tries establishing power over the people through the elimination of the clock radio, the balance is upset. The Hoggetts become the threat to the characters. Rather than a distant God, discussions of animal based meals starts getting brought up.
Because I like to tie all themes and motifs to ideas of parenthood, Babe gives a concept of the abusive parent. Both Farmer Hoggett and Rex are the paternal surrogate for Babe. We never meet Babe's father. Again, this is --and this is a stretch --attributed to the milking machine. It would be easy to say that the milking machine is a stand in for the matriarch, but Fly fills in that role. Similarly, the role of the milk machine is to separate a child from its mother. Well, if there's no more depressing metaphor for what a father does, I don't know what else it could be. But Babe never really has a lasting father figure, at least in a healthy way. Farmer Hoggett gets really close to a father figure character, but fails in certain elements. It's very telling that Farmer Hoggett has a hard time expressing vulnerability. Despite the fact that the very entry into the competition is extremely vulnerable to him, he has a hard time vocally expressing that. The phrase that the movie is probably most associated with is "That'll do, pig". That three word phrase is code for "I love you." Babe, for the most part, is a static character who simply gains knowledge, but maintains his core beliefs. Hoggett, however, goes from a role of master to that of father. We see that because Hoggett, clutching a shotgun that is pointed at Babe's face (an extremely traumatic scene that I never really grasped as a child) shows the abusive nature of fatherhood. Yes, Hoggett is granted a redemption arc. But when he's about to kill Babe with the shotgun, it is after Hoggett realizes Babe's objective value. Hoggett wasn't the master archetype when the gun is pointed at Babe. Instead, he is in the role of father correcting a mistake through violence.
The same can be said of Rex. Rex is associated with fatherhood because of his relationship to Fly. Fly is the overt mother character, being named as such by Babe. But Rex actively wants nothing to do with him. If Babe is kind of a carbon copy of the bones of Charlotte's Web, we can't deny that there are elements of The Jungle Book and Tarzan filled in as well with the adoption of another species of animal. But Rex never really makes the shift that the movie claims he does. Rex, the victim of circumstance, blames a disability for his cruel actions. Coupled with the jealousy of a child that has outshone him, Rex only really makes the shift to a morally healthy character not because of his love for Babe, but for the respect that he has for his wife. But Rex only respects Fly in ways that further his own sense of attraction and mating. Fly, a strong female character, is regularly undermined by her patriarchal coupling, who shouts and barks. Yes, his deafness should be considered an element of the story, but Rex regularly strikes out violently at anyone who rubs him the wrong way. Honestly, Babe in that household is somewhat the victim of domestic(ated) abuse. That decision in the end is good, but it doesn't really allow Rex to be considered a father to Babe. At most, it makes him a citizen of the farm and a character who acknowledges his new place as a retiree in this commmunity.
Hey, guess what? I was terrified to write this today. I thought, "I have nothing to say about Babe". I'm kind of proud of this one. I went super academic for absolutely no reason and found out about gender politics in a kids' anti-meat movie fro 1995. I'll consider this one a win.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.