The 1995 movie Babe is the definition of the 'little movie that could' trope. Based on a children's novel about the adventures of a talking piglet that becomes a talented sheep-herder, Babe was made on a small budget with a little-known cast, but went on to become an enduring classic with a global fan-following, $254 million box -office gross and seven Oscar nominations. On the film's 25th anniversary, actor James Cromwell, who played the role of Babe's owner Arthur Hoggett, spoke about the unique way in which the story's talking animals were brought to life.
"It was this film about a pig and the animals talked and I thought, you know, they're gonna put peanut butter in their mouths. I knew nothing about CGI and nothing about what [director] Chris Noonan and [co-writer and producer] George Miller wanted to achieve, which was to make the animals relate to each other as if they were human beings. In other words, they'd have a human consciousness. Real animals look straight ahead when walking, otherwise they'll run into trees; but human beings count on their peripheral vision, so they look at each other. And that little difference between the way George and Chris conceived the film was one of the things that made it unique."
Making Babe was a collaboration between first-time director Chris Noonan and George Miller, of Mad Max fame, who had written the script alongside Noonan and was also a producer. Both men had strong artistic voices, and unfortunately, according to James Cromwell, that often made it difficult for the two to agree on a singular vision for the movie.
"Chris' humanity and his heart and his sweetness, his vision, was really imprinted on the way he shot that picture. All those qualities are not George's qualities - although he has them; but he doesn't use them very often when he makes pictures. George thought there should be more edge [to Babe], and he came one day to the set, we were well into it by then, and he pulled Chris away from set down into the middle of the field and I could see them, George and his righthand guy, sort of grilling Chris. Waving their fingers in front of Chris' face. I thought, "Hum, that's not so good. Let's not have that." So I walked down and sort of inserted myself into the conversation, which of course made it more difficult for George to say whatever he had to say and he sort of harumphed and walked away. I don't think we had anymore problems until much later in the process."
Despite onset tensions, filming was eventually completed, which posed the next great challenge in Babe's journey: getting general audiences interested in an unknown film about a talking pig. But as Cromwell describes it, the public response at the first screening of the movie confirmed it's universal appeal.
"The studio opened that film in the middle of the day, in a little theater in Santa Monica, with no press. I don't know how they got an audience in there. I was there. I hadn't seen the film. So I didn't know that the opening begins in the slaughterhouse and the pig that goes to the carnival is saved from the slaughter house while his mother goes in the big truck to be killed. And then it begins with Roscoe Lee Brown's impeccable, wonderful, magical opening. "This is the story of an unprejudiced heart." And when the first joke came, I heard not the kids laugh, I heard an adult laugh. I thought, "Oh, we got 'em. The adults are in this picture, they're seeing this picture from the point of view of the animals, the pig."
Cromwell's prediction turned out to be true, as it quickly became apparent that, far from being a forgettable children's film, Babe was destined to become an enduring classic for all ages, and a bright spot in the filmography of the cast, Noonan and Miller. This comes from The Hollywood Reporter.