Babe : Pig in the City
By Brett Beach
March 25, 2010
I can't imagine keeping up that pace consistently anymore. And it isn't simply by virtue of being a father and knowing that from an aspect of time, it isn't an option. My personal preference is not to knock myself out anymore. Three years ago, I finally fulfilled a long-standing promise to myself and crammed in as many films as I could at the Portland International Film Festival: thirty-six (plus an assortment of shorts) over 14 days. I consider that an achievement but couldn't imagine doing that year in, year out. And then multiplying that by any number of other local, national, international festivals that die-hard cinephiles queue up for and for which they plot out screening schedules with the breathless precision of a general leading recruits into battle. I may dream of what the atmosphere would be like at Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, Venice, but I am happy to let them remain just dreams for now.
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."
What exactly is a "children's film?" Does this differ at all from a "family film?" Is a motion picture that seems for all intents and purposes to be aimed at younger members of the movie-going public (i.e. a lot of anthropomorphic animals, animation, zany characters voiced by recognizable personalities, slapstick chases/antics, an overabundance of poop and fart jokes, various male actors being felled by well-placed shots/kicks/sporting goods to their manhood) to be criticized if it contains not-so-kid-friendly elements? What does this even mean? Are the above listed elements even necessary? To wit, a brief consideration of what thinking outside the box can bring.
In 1999, two directors who in their respective outputs to date had never been within spitting distance of a G rating, got precisely that for their films. David Mamet's adaptation of classic play The Winslow Boy (a fine achievement unjustly underrated), and David Lynch's The Straight Story (a Disney release and the first of three consecutive masterworks) retain their creators' unique way with language, quirky plot rhythms, and sense that an audience has not encountered these worlds before. Neither one neither played in more than 200 theaters at a time nor made its budget back domestically, but both were intended as smaller films so the stakes were considerably lower. They each were on my shortlist for the best of the year and are examples of quality filmmaking that could be and should be enjoyed by the family. (I like to think of The Straight Story as "Lynch with training wheels" a film to help ease the young lads and lasses gently on the road to Eraserhead or Inland Empire.)
To lead into discussion of Babe: Pig in the City, a very expensive film that from a commercial viewpoint flopped miserably here and abroad, was decidedly not universally beloved like its predecessor, and was plagued in the weeks prior to its release by increasingly hysterical concern that it was simply too dark and upsetting for young audiences, I want to briefly fete a film that is often wrongly derided as a bomb (in the same breath as Ishtar or The Postman.)