I remember watching the movie Babe back in the day and falling completely in love with that adorable little pig, much like everyone else in the world did. The film was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Writing, and it won the award for Best Visual Effects. When you consider that it was made in the mid-90s, the visual effects are quite astounding. In fact, one of the reasons it took writer George Miller (who you might know from the Mad Max franchise) ten years to get the movie made was because he was waiting for technology to catch up with his vision for the film: “…back when we were doing Babe, pre-digital, we didn’t know how to make the pig speak. I knew that the story had to be done live-action, because it didn’t lend itself to a kind of classic kinetic animation, cel animation.”
Recently I decided to read the book that the movie was based on, written by Dick King-Smith and originally titled The Sheep-Pig. I’ve never read anything by King-Smith despite the fact that he’s written over 100 books. The Sheep-Pig is a short read and pretty different from its film adaptation. I’d say that overall the book tells a simple story about a pig who learns to be sheep-pig. The movie has some added drama and characters, which is to be expected from an adaptation of a 125-page book. For example, the movie begins with poor little Babe watching in horror as his mother gets taken away in a truck labeled “Meat”. This scene really sets the tone for the film but it doesn’t happen in the book, which starts off on a much lighter note. Readers are introduced to Farmer Hogget and his wife at the local fair as the farmer guesses the piglet’s weight and immediately develops a sort of bond with him. In both versions, Farmer Hogget wins the piglet and then the story really begins.
In both versions, there are other talking animals besides Babe, like Fly the collie and her puppies and Maa the ewe. But the movie features far more talking animals than the book, like the duck Ferdinand and those mice that introduce all the scenes. Not to mention Rex the mean dog who doesn’t even exist in the book. And while I can totally understand why they added in all these characters for the movie I have to admit that I preferred the story without them. They are there to provide some hijinx and slapstick comedy, but that’s about it.
Despite the differences, the book and the movie share most of the major plot points. Like when the sheep are attacked and it looks as though Babe is the one responsible:
“There before them lay a dead ewe, and bending over it was the pig, his snout almost touching the outstretched neck, a snout, they saw, that was stained with blood.”
The scenes where the Farmer and Fly discover that Babe is innocent are quick and to-the-point in the book, but this discovery process is really drawn out and elaborate in the film. Again, I prefer the simplicity of the original story here. And the final scene at the sheep-dog competition is pretty much the same. It’s really fun to watch this scene play out in the movie, even though the description in the book is beautifully written:
“Unmoving, held by the magic of the moment, the crowd watched with no sound but a great sigh of amazement. No one could quite believe his eyes. No one seemed to notice that the wind had dropped and the rain had stopped. No one was surprised when a single shaft of sunshine came suddenly through a hole in the grey clouds and shone full upon the great sarsen-stone.”
One thing I found really interesting is that the movie focuses on the idea of animals as food far more than the book. At the beginning of the book, Mrs. Hogget initially wants the pig for food, but she quickly changes her mind and Babe is treated more like a pet. In the movie, the farmer is supposed to kill Babe for Christmas dinner but manages to convince his wife that the pig might win at next year’s fair, so maybe they should have duck instead. She agrees and poor Ferdinand then watches as they cut open his friend Rosanna for their meal. He obviously freaks out and leaves the farm in a panic. Interestingly enough, in real life actor James Cromwell was a vegetarian but became vegan during filming and is now an outspoken animal rights activist. VICE did a great interview with him a few years ago where he talks about his experience making the film and how it changed him. Cromwell is the best thing about the movie, in my opinion, other than Babe’s adorable voice. He makes the character of the farmer so much more likeable. He sings to the pig and even does a little dance. How could you not love that?
You’ll be happy to know that the memorable final line of the movie is almost a direct quote from the book. Although I prefer the movie’s “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.” to the book’s “That’ll do. That’ll do.” Funny how just including the word “pig” makes it more touching. Don’t believe me? Just watch the scene below and tell me you don’t tear up a little.
I highly recommend reading The Sheep-Pig but I can’t really blame you if you’d rather watch Babe. Between James Cromwell and that cute little pig, the movie has a lot going for it. I like the book better but I’m not going to lie, the movie is pretty great and rewatching it made me want to give Babe: Pig in the City another go.