I watched Babe: Pig in the City on DVD the other day. It was the first time I’d seen it since it was on at the movies, some nine years ago, and I’d forgotten a lot of the detail. It’s possible it’s a better movie than Babe itself, and that’s saying something. Magda Szubanski, who was riotous enough in the first movie, here leaps completely into a theatre of the absurd and verges on being a cartoon rather than a human being. Yet somehow it works, because there’s a real person under it all.
With Mrs Hoggett taking over the movie, it loses the warmth that pervaded Babe, (and loses James Cromwell for most of the proceedings) but what it loses in warmth it gains in creating a world in which chimps dressed in human clothes and talking with Brooklyn accents are nothing at all to be wondered at, since the humans in this world are even more strange.
Mickey Rooney makes a brief appearance as Fugly Floom (Fugly Floom, what sort of a name is that?) a character who’s just as peculiar in his real life as he is as the Magician. And the woman, played by Mary Stein, who owns the place where all the animals hide, is a tall person who dresses oddly, and seems to think there’s nothing weird about being almost the only human in an animal hotel. Even her neighbour across the canal, who listens all night long to opera with her husband, is a manic creature given to odd hairstyles.
The crowd who inhabit the streets nearby are an extraordinary, extreme mix of Los Angeles types, many of them on skates. And there are suddenly more people in this world with porcine faces than we’d normally see in everyday life.
The animals are drawn equally largely, from the manic dog with wheels where his hind legs should be, to the pitbull who has something of a change of heart, to Thelonius the orang-utan, who insists on dressing up when he goes out.
It’s the detail in the film that’s superb. The production design by Roger Ford is constantly a delight, as are the jokes that pervade the movie, whether it’s Mrs Hoggett being dowsed in paste and turning up later creaking and squeaking, or the absurd swinging from the mezzanine at the big party at the end.
This is a classic comedy, on a par with….The Princess Bride.