Babe: Pig in the City

Whether you think “Babe: Pig in the City” is, as advance chatter has had it, too dark and grim for the kiddies depends on your definition of dark and your understanding of the tenderhearts who may be accompanying you to the theater. Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) suffering a horrifying, near-fatal accident inadvertently caused by the cute, wittle, pink piggy of the title, minutes into the story? Mrs. Hoggett (Magda Szubanski) strip-searched for drugs by airport security personnel? Mickey Rooney in scary clown gear, visiting a hospital ward full of wan, desperately sick children — some bandaged, others bald?

I guess that’s dark; some kids may cringe with anxiety. But “Pig in the City” is also brilliant. So, you know what? Don’t take anyone you think will mewl — and don’t miss this astonishingly bleak, inventive, funny, sumptuously designed film. It’s a daring, teeth-gleaming departure from the pastoral temperament of the original “Babe” — more “Mad Max” than la la la, with a hot blast of Terry Gilliam-style mischief thrown in. It’s by turns angry, giddy, sadistic, and despairing — natural emotions for the change of venue from the idyllic protectiveness of the countryside to the mix-’em-up excitement of urban life. And it moves like a hospital ward on fire, propelled by the singular sensibility of Australian director, cowriter, and producer George “Road Warrior” Miller.

The lessons Babe learns in the city — and that he teaches to his new friends — are that kindness matters; bravery helps, even if you’re frightened; plus, bad things sometimes happen to good animals. (The first “Babe” was, don’t forget, equally sardonic and doleful: Animals were slaughtered and eaten regularly.)

This “Pig in the City” prevails. Babe stays nice, but he fights when fighting is called for. He makes a friend of an enemy pit bull; he convinces an isolationist orangutan to pitch in. His song of la la la will still make softies smile, but it’s Babe’s understanding of the dark side of the force that makes this fable sing.

Babe: Pig in the City
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