Based on Dick King-Smith’s 1983 novel The Sheep-Pig, Babe is a sweet story with substance, offering a cute barnyard tale on the surface while speaking to larger themes about prejudice and presumptions.
Though a family film, Babe doesn’t shy away from the grim realities that pigs are raised for humans to eat which the viewers are told early on, though Babe is unaware of his fate. This little piggy briefly escapes the fate of his brothers and sisters when he is offered up as a prize at a local fair. Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) sizes up Babe to guess his weight, which he does correctly, and they unknowningly form a bond as they look into each other’s eyes. Hoggett wins Babe and takes him home where Mrs. Hoggett (Magda Szubanski) intends to fatten him up and have him for Christmas dinner.
On Hoggett’s farm, there are no other pigs so Babe is taken under the wing of the female sheepdog, Fly. He makes friends with Maa the ewe and Ferdinand the duck. The latter is a very funny character, who knows ducks are for eating, so he performs the rooster’s job of waking everyone up in the morning in the hopes this will keep him out of oven. This leads to a very funny sequence where Ferdinand gets Babe to help him steal the new alarm clock.
Babe proves his worth when he alerts the sheepdogs who in turn alert Hoggett that sheep are being poached. Hoggett thinks Babe might be more useful outside the oven and trains him to work as a sheepdog, which infuriates sheepdog Rex. The sheep are more responsive to Babe because he politely asks them to move into their pen in contrast to the sheepdogs that run, bark, and bite the sheep in order to herd them.
Hoggett is so impressed by Babe’s talents he enters him in the local sheepdog trial. However, those sheep have no interest in listening to a pig, setting up Hoggett and the organizers, who to their chagrin discovered they had no rule that entrants had to be dogs, for great embarrassment. The ending is not surprising, though comes off believably motivated because of the effect Babe has had on interacting with other characters.
Babe offers a great lesson as it deals with exceeding expectations and not allowing others to set limits on what you can do. It also shows the arbitrariness of prejudice as dogs and sheep are enemies, thinking the other is dumb because they haven’t taken the time to know one another. Children’s films can be sappy and preachy, but Babe excels because it is neither. Instead, it’s filled with adorable moments and doesn’t browbeat the viewer, making for an extremely satisfying film.
Universal brings Babe to Blu-ray with a 1080p / VC-1 encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The colors are lush with bright hues as seen in the outdoor greens the dollhouse Hoggett made for his ungrateful granddaughter. Details are so sharp and defined I am curious if there was any edge enhancement. The hairs on the pigs are amazing as is the sheep’s wool and blades of grass and hay. The image also offers an adequate amount of film grain and very good shadow delineation.
There are some issues though. The print is not clean. Dirt and marks can be seen throughout, particularly in bright scenes like when Ferdinand watches through the window as Babe sneak past the cat and as Hoggett leaves the field after finding the poachers gone. In the latter scene, a brief bit of aliasing on Hoggett’s truck grill can be seen when he approaches. During the opening sequence, a bright light shining into the darkened area where pigs are kept finds the white blowing out a bit. There are also occasions when the focus is soft.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The surrounds offer very immersive ambiance and the score swells in the speakers. There is very good directionality and placement. Trucks can be heard moving across the front channels. Voices, especially the singing mice at the end of chapters, are properly placed. One issue is the dialogue, most of which has the obvious artificiality of ADR.