Disappointed in Babe: Pig in the City, I went back to watching the original. Ever after a dozen viewings, this original film retains its power to entertain, endear, and raise emotional and psychological issues uncommon among children's films.
The magic was in the details of this film, and not just in production design. After all, busy production design couldn't make the second film any more engaging than it was. No, the original Babe's charm lies in the wonderful characterizations of Rex and Fly, the sweet yet prejudiced sheep dogs, lovable in nature, but with character flaws that make them as rich as any human character; it lies in the matter-of-fact Farmer Hoggett, played with sincerity and humour by James Cromwell; it lies in the impeccably tailored voice work, from the braying ewe Maa to the hilariously squeaky mice, the booming horse, and that oh-so-greasy cat; it lies in the beautifully rendered, pudgy voice work for Babe by Christine Cavanaugh, who was sorely missed in the second film; and it lies in the pure heart of moments like the slamming of the gate at the sheep dog trial at the end, Rex and Fly's endearing kiss against a soaring crane shot, the eerie dramatic irony of Babe facing Farmer Hoggett's rifle, and Fly's loss of her puppies. And the film's famously ironic tone is the icing on the cake, spearheaded by a highly effective "naive narrator", which subverts the fairy-tale tone of the piece and adds dimensions that serve to add both humour and intellectual complexity to the story.
This film was well deserving of its Best Picture and Best Screenplay Oscar nominations, a film smart enough for adults but joyful enough for children.