In just a week, the adorable, endlessly inventive fable of a talking, sheep-tending little pig, Babe, will be running on its pink legs against four other movies for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Whether or not it brings home the bacon in that or six other categories, the nominations clearly snort out loud that Hollywood loves this plucky, live-action Australian import, produced with unaccountable sweetness by George Miller (who directed the ultra-brutal Mad Max series and the excruciatingly graphic medical drama Lorenzo’s Oil). Plain politics didn’t hurt, either: When ”all-ages” fare this witty comes along (peak dialogue: A seemingly doomed duck screaming, ”Christmas means carnage!”), Tinseltown denizens know it’s shrewd to promote it with lots of nominations as a PR hedge against antiviolence broadsides from Washington.
But, hey, let’s not imagine that actors, who make up the largest Oscar voting block, would ever award Babe too many trophies — let alone Best Picture. You’re more likely to see a pork chop fly than witness that happening to any movie whose stars aren’t human thespians.
Meantime, a much muddier, nastier, two-way race is going on at video stores, now that Babe is snout-to-snout on shelves with another talking pig tale released on tape back in November, Gordy. Why is the contest compelling? Because this pretender piggy went to market in a way that should have sent video viewers running in the other direction — but instead has sold one million copies to date.
Gordy‘s original artwork has been tweaked for video to resemble Babe, but Gordy is not nearly such a prize animal. It spins a lame kidnapping plot involving the pig, a rich kid (Michael Roescher), and an evil flack (James Donadio) out to control the kid’s company, while Babe weaves a piglet’s odyssey into a moral lesson about prejudice of all kinds. Gordy features lame country-music interludes with its star, singer Doug Stone, and such guests as Roy Clark and Mickey Gilley, while Babe adapts Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3 into a magnificent, indelible score (delivered in good part by Chipmunk-esque mice). And most notably, Gordy‘s animal stars ”talk” with badly synched voice-overs set to images of animals endlessly chewing food, while at home, Babe‘s blend of computer-animated lips, animatronic figures (from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop), and real livestock looks considerably more seamless than it did on theater screens big as all outdoors.
So what made an outright turkey — um, pig — like Gordy fly on video? Simple: The Disney name. When it bombed in theaters last May, months before Babe first opened, this movie was a Miramax release. But Disney owns Miramax, so it created a ”Disney Presents” ad campaign and front-loaded the cassette with ads for plush animal dolls of barnyard characters that aren’t even in the movie. So don’t be a sheep: Rout that runt Gordy and savor Babe‘s majestic, music-drenched vision of the world as one big, harmonious farm family.