'Babe', for some reason, is one of the only talking animal movies that I can stand. I've made no bones about my dislike for movies like 'Marmaduke' or 'Beverly Hill Chihuahua 2' and their ridiculous reasoning behind not only making animals talk, but making their mouths move as well. It's off-putting to watch an animal's mouth move just because we want them to seem more human. Is that the only way we can relate to animals on screen? I felt for the animals in 'Homeward Bound' when I was a child, and their mouths didn't move. They communicated telepathically (I guess), which is just as believable as animals moving their mouths to make human sounds.
Sorry, I'm digressing just a tad. Talking animals in live action movies is just one of my movie pet peeves. It doesn't help that most of those kinds of movies are terrible to begin with (see movies listed above). 'Babe' overcomes these inadequacies, because at its heart it's a loveable film. It's actually pretty good too (It was nominated for Best Picture in fact!). So, good I'm able to overlook some of the silly CG mouths placed on the dogs of the household. Although, I will mention that whenever Jim Henson's animatronics are used, instead of CG, it looks a lot better.
Babe is a small piglet. Learning about the world around him is a tough proposition. See, people eat pigs, and 'Babe' doesn't try to skirt the issue. Regular killing and eating of animals is discussed quite frankly. It's one of the reasons the movie is so good, because it's fair. It doesn't create some sort of idealized society where people magically don't eat farm animals. It doesn't dumb down its message for the younger audience by pretending that stuff doesn't exist. It treats the subject matter with respect, and lets children and parents make up their own mind about consuming animals. It never gets preachy, instead it offers a look from the animals' points of view and asks what they think about their fate? And, could they change it?
Babe is soon adopted by Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) after winning the pig in a weight contest at the state fair. Babe is thrust into farm society head first. The sheep dogs rule the Hoggett farm. They're the masters of the house and barn, while pigs are the lowest of the low. The rules are explained to Babe. Pigs are not allowed in the house, because to put it bluntly, "pigs are definitely stupid."
Soon, however, the female sheepdog takes to Babe and rears the pig as her own. Because of Babe's polite nature, he becomes a sheep herding pig. I know it sounds all pie-in-the-sky, but there's something that's simply infectious about this movie. A whimsical feel that is comparable to the 'Nanny McPhee' movies. A feel that sucks you into Babe's world and the other animal characters.
'Babe' is never condescending, and perhaps the most surprising aspect is that in a movie full of farm animals it's very light on the potty humor. It never skirts the issue of how mean and cruel the world can be. It's a smart movie, one that teaches simple morals and guidelines to live by. It's rare to find a movie both based in realism, but lifted by whimsy. 'Babe' is that movie though. A movie that will be fondly remembered for years to come.
I would love to say that Universal's 1080p transfer for 'Babe' is nothing short of miraculous, but sadly I cannot. Sure, there are moments of pure brilliance – like the fine detail exhibited during close ups, but there are quite a few nitpicks to be found along the way.
Color is rich and lush. The quaint country side farm is replete with fertile greens, and azure blues. Earthy tones for mud, dirt, and the barn also have a deep, rich look to them. Close ups feature a heavy amount of detail. Tiny hairs on the animals' faces are easy to discern. However, the film does feature a heavy amount of flecks, specks, and scratches that pop up regularly. Many of the mid-range shots appear very soft in nature, especially when compared to the scenic wide shots of the countryside vistas, and the detailed character close ups. There is a moment during the 39:33 mark that features an inordinate amount of image wobble. Farmer Hoggett stands, overlooking his field with his sheep in the distance. The image noticeably wobbles from side to side for a good two to three seconds before the movie cuts to a different shot. Finally, some noticeable edge enhancement has been used, especially with objects on the horizon line.
'Babe' looks good on Blu-ray, but I can't help but think that it could have looked much better.
Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound mix fares a bit better than the video.
The rear channels are quite busy during the movie, making for an engaging listening environment. The pig farms at the beginning feature echoing squeals from pigs making you feel like you're right in the middle of that cavernous warehouse. Later on the rear speakers become full of all sorts of animalistic sounds produced by the variety of farm animals on Hoggett's farm. Directionality works well as a duck who thinks he's a rooster blares his wakeup signal out of frame. Dialogue is perfectly placed in the front and center channels, and comes out intelligibly ever time. Even the quietly nuanced scenes, like the hushed scene at the end where nothing happens other than Babe leading the sheep through the obstacle course. A bird chirps here, and a bell rings in the distance there, but that moment of complete silence is just as amazing as everything else that happens.
This is a wonderful high-def presentation for fans.
Not only is 'Babe' a charming, fluffy little film for the whole family to enjoy, it's also a movie that defies the notion that kids movies of this ilk need to be dumb and full of slapstick humor. This was nominated for Best Picture for good reason! A lovable movie can still be made while teaching a few lessons and never stooping to cheap laughs. It's a sweet and genuine film. The video is a bit of a disappointment, but the audio makes up for it if only slightly. The special features are thin and don't offer anything in the way of new content for fans. Still, because of the nature of this film and because it is the best presentation we have of 'Babe' right now, it still comes with a light recommendation.