The film that makes me cry: Babe

Babe charts the rise of a cute orphaned piglet who is polite to sheep and befriends a surly farmer. It also encapsulates themes of social isolation and animal cruelty. Eleanor Ross tells us why she finds Babe so traumatising

As an adult, I had it pointed out to me by my mother that Babe – held up as the “cutesy” film of the 1990s – was actually pretty mean, encapsulating as it did themes of social isolation, animal cruelty and victimisation: no wonder I’m left traumatised every time I watch it.

“But there’s a talking dog!” my friends say, as I snuffle in the corner under a pile of crumpled tissues. “Look, puppies!”

For those of you unfamiliar with the film, Babe charts the rise of an orphaned piglet adopted by a motherly sheepdog. The piglet finds out that by being polite to sheep, he can (spoiler alert) win big at sheepdog trials. Who isn’t bowled over by a cute porker’s fight against adversity?

But the film starts on a macabre note – Babe is orphaned after his mother is herded to the slaughterhouse. We’re constantly reminded of the fragility of Babe’s life as Farmer Hoggett’s wife measures the growing piglet for Christmas dinner. But this film is so much more than Peta campaigning.

The first tears threaten when gruff Farmer Hoggett guesses Babe’s weight at a county fair and wins the pig; we see a hint of a bond pass between man and beast. Back at the ranch, Babe befriends sheepdog Fly, despite her mate (and head-dog honcho) Rex’s protestations: “He’s a pig, Fly!”

Babe first arouses Farmer Hoggett’s interest as a potential “sheep-pig” when he herds chickens in the courtyard according to their colour by “asking them nicely”. But it’s when Fly’s fluffy border-collie puppies are sold that the waterworks start again. “Can I call you mum?” Babe asks Fly, as cinemas across the country prepare for imminent flooding.

At times, the film passes from the weepy to the faintly ridiculous – when Babe is nursed back to health after contracting a cold, Farmer Hoggett does a full-on dance to the rousing theme song, If I Had Words. Thank God he does, because it’s one of the only moments in the film I can cast aside my tissues and cynically raise my eyebrows.

Any attempts at light-heartedness are forgotten by the time Babe reaches the finals of the national sheepdog trials. He asks the sheep politely if they will move but struggles to control them, which threatens to humiliate Farmer Hoggett: we hold our breath as Rex – Babe’s staunchest critic – intervenes on Babe’s behalf to get the “sheep password”. The world waits to see what this pig can do: will Babe succeed at persuading the sheep to pass through the gates of the course under the calm and faithful eye of Farmer Hoggett?

Of course! The sound of the bolt slotting into the lock is heard as the last sheep is rounded up perfectly. Over the sounds of whoops and cheers from the assembled farming community, the last words of the film should make even the hardest soul cry: “And though every single human in the stands or in the commentary boxes was at a complete loss for words, the man who in his life had uttered fewer words than any of them knew exactly what to say: ‘That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.’”


Eleanor Ross

The GuardianTramp

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