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A great sequel

``THE SEQUEL is better than the original.'' How many movies can you say that of? Just one: "Babe 2: Pig in the City", directed by George Miller, which must be the least watched great film in recent movie history.

If you are one of the few who have seen it, you'll know what I'm talking about; if you haven't, rent it and see for yourself. It's magical. Though it opened to glowing reviews (except for a few critics who simply didn't get it) it misfired at the box office. And disappeared for good, not even to surface on television (the way the first "Babe" keeps showing-up on HBO).

It cost $100 millions to make and grossed $18 millions, making sure that there never would be a "Babe 3".

But more about "Babe 2" later, for now I'd like to look at sequels a bit. `Sequels aren't equals' they say, but "The Godfather II", "The Road Warrior: Mad Max 2", "The Empire Strikes Back", "Attack of the Clones", "Evil Dead II" and III have challenged that. These are the great sequels — popular and respected — but what about the less known great sequels? I'd put "Psycho II" first. Directed by Richard Franklin, it is without Hitchcock's genius but is nevertheless genuinely suspenseful and surprising.

"The Heretic: Exorcist II" directed by John Boorman and "Legion: Exorcist III", directed by William Peter Blatty are very different films from the original but they don't disappoint. Nobody even remembers that "Chinatown" had a sequel but that's the fate of "The Two Jakes" directed by Jack Nicholson himself. While it does disappoint as a sequel, it makes for an intriguing noir film on its own terms.

Back to "Pig in the City." The first Babe was good: apart from breaking new ground in animatronics (making real animals talk) it transcended Walt Disney/Dreamworks cuteness. It was charming, feel-good and fable-like.

"Babe 2" is a complete departure: it is sophisticated, very funny, profoundly moving and full of what I can only call animal-joy. It is a children's film but a children's film that imagines the world the way real children and animals would. There's no easy sentimentality here: animals don't die and they don't resemble humans. Instead, Miller gets them to exult in their animal nature.

The animals bare their souls to us in a way no film has ever shown them do — because Miller shows they have an inner life. He does this by getting them to talk, really talk — not in the cute or artificial way we are used to animals talking in, say, "The Lion King" or that Disney weepy, "Bambi". Babe goes on a trip to the Big City and finds shelter at the Flealands Hotel, which secretly houses animals. There he meets a whole bunch of new animals, mostly strays who are street smart and urban. At first, Babe feels estranged and alone. And then a single act of bravery and selflessness on his part makes Babe their leader. When the authorities come to impound the animals, Babe leads a rescue.

Miller's animals are more memorable than human characters in most movies. Apart from brave, gentle Babe and Ferdinand the comic sidekick duck from the farm, there's Flealick, a fast talking terrier who's lost his hind legs but uses a harness with wheels to get around, Thelonius, an ageing orang-utan with eyes that seem to reflect the sadness of the world, a bull terrier who speaks like Frank Petangeli from "The Godfather II" (one of the most transcendentally moving moments in movies comes when the bull terrier — who has been trying to kill Babe — is saved by Babe from drowning) who explains that he has "a professional obligation to be malicious". It is in his bloodline to be bad. ``A murderous shadow lies hard across my soul," he informs Babe.

Then there's the beautiful French poodle who could be right out of a Tennessee Williams play with her exquisite manners, Southern accent and damaged soul, several stray mongrels and street cats, two big, stately English bulldogs who speak in a clipped Brit accent, two show biz chimps (voiced marvellously by Stephen Wright and Glenne Headly) called Bob and Zootie who speak in a dry dead-pan that is truly hilarious. (The bubble gum chewing Zootie has never seen a pig, describes Babe as "kind of a baldy, pinky, whitey thingy." And one of the funniest lines in the movie comes from Stephen Wright saying in a dry tone: "Fine by moi." Not to forget the goldfish, the snobbish cat choir, and the trio of singing mice.

Babe is more than just a hero. He is the Holy Fool found in all religious parables. Actually, all these animals (and by extension all animals everywhere) are holy fools in their goodness, nobleness and selflessness. Babe, for instance, saves his enemy, Thelonius, usually cagey and cautious, leaps to save his friend, the goldfish, forgetting for a moment that his own life was at risk. The pelican, which transports Ferdinand all the way from the farm to the big city in his bill, releases him above the city, saying: "Farewell, noble duck". In the world of "Babe 2", which is the world of George Miller, to be an animal is the highest, most beautiful and joyous station in life.


visuals by Netra Shyam

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