''Babe: Pig in the City'' offers slapstick comedy with a good-hearted piglet

This little piggy’s first movie was such a surprise hit, there was nary a tie-in toy available. But for Babe: Pig in the City, due Nov. 25, the tail is definitely wagging the hog. Starting in October, more than 100 licensees worldwide began filling store shelves with ”plush” Babes, CD-ROM Babes, and even Real Live Babes — interactive boars that know what time of day it is and ask for breakfast, lunch, and dinner accordingly.

If only filmmaking worked so well.

The sequel, in which Babe goes to town to save the farm from foreclosure, is costing a rumored $80 million and will probably just make its Thanksgiving debut. Producer-director George Miller (the man also responsible for the Mad Max movies) finished shooting in June, but the film’s fiendishly complex computer effects won’t be done until right before the mid-November exhibitors’ screenings. Besides the talking pig, the cast includes a trio of monkeys, a gruffly lovable pit bull, and a mousy Greek chorus, many of whom require painstakingly computer-enhanced lip movements.

Lip movements were, in fact, an overall problem for the sequel. Christine Cavanaugh, the original voice of Babe (and whose talents are also featured in the animated Rugrats), reportedly asked for approximately $200,000 to return. The filmmakers balked, and Cavanaugh’s Rugrats costar E.G. Daily took over for, allegedly, a mere $50,000.

Mickey Rooney has also joined the cast as a washed-up vaudevillian, and James Cromwell and Magda Szubanski return as Mr. and Mrs. Hoggett. While Cromwell (best supporting actor Oscar nominee for his role in the original) gets less screen time in the sequel, Szubanski plays a much bigger role. Maybe a little too big; she still sounds achy from 17-hour stretches inside a bungee-esque harness-cum-clown suit that bounced her around a banquet hall with ”a pig in my arms and an orangutan on my back,” says the Aussie-raised comedian. ”I think people will be shocked at the way-out level of slapstick.”

And how did her porcine costar handle the rough work? ”Very well,” she says. ”He kept falling asleep in the middle of a take.”

Babe: Pig in the City
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