“Babe” is an Australian family film made from 1995. The hero of the film is a young, sweet pig named Babe, who after losing his mother to the slaughter house, is himself packed off to a local country fair and there put into a competition to be won by the odd and gentle farmer Mr. Hoggett. During the daily routines of the farm Hoggett discovers that Babe has a talent for working with his flock of sheep. Babe slowly but surely earns respect as a “Sheep Pig” and becomes, eventually in the course of the narrative, a bit of a hero and celebrity to the community and the farm where he resides.
“Babe” as a family film is simultaneously cheerful and colorful, but also has a myriad of dark undercurrents which deals with a number of fairly adult issues. The film constantly critiques humanities disregard and mistreatment of animals, making strong claims against eating meat. One could also see Mr. Hoggetts vision and belief in making his pig a great “sheep dog” as a metaphor for an artist’s passion and personal oddities which go into the act of art-making.
One of the most interesting parts of the movie is the representation of the Sheep Dog Rex; who´s character is first presented with all the typical negative traits usually associated in our society with overly macho masculinity. “Babe”, as a filmic morality play, depicts these characteristics as horrible, yet even if it is interesting to see such a clear critic of macho behavior, what is most interesting in the film is that Rex is given a back-story to explain his behavior and personality and also allowed to grow and develop in a tender, yet subtle way.
Rex (voiced by Hugo Weaving) is introduced into the film as a frightening patriarch. He dislikes that his mate, Fly (voiced by Miriam Margolyes), comforts the newly arrived Babe. He makes it clear to Fly that he wants Fly’s kindness towards Babe to be temporary. Rex spends little to no time with the cubs he has sired with his mate Fly, and wishes to spend no time in communicating with the newly arrived Babe. Fly on the other hand is a devoted mother and at once feels sympathy for the new pig. Fly is portrayed as caring, as females often stereotypically are depicted, while Rex is shown as cold and threatening. He never is seen around the kids or shows little care or concern for them. Rex is also overly proud and wants to be able to be the most dominate animal at the farm.
The first time Babe gets into trouble at the farm, Rex holds a meeting to make new rules to constrain a unruliness and subversion to the “law of the Farm”, demanding all the animals to be present to hear the new regulations. Later on, obviously feeling helpless in his the lack of control to the events occurring around him, he snaps at his wife Fly for letting Babe participate in herding sheep. As Babe becomes an expert on the matter of sheep herding and control, and Mr. Hoggett’s new favorite, Rex becomes jealous and angrier. Fly tries to go and comfort Rex. She explains that she knows it’s hard for him to swallow the fact that Babe is the farmers “Sheep Pig”, however she wishes he wouldn’t be so mad on “such a beautiful night”. Her loving remarks are met by rage, and violence, as Rex assaults Fly. The scene is gritty, showing a pretty graphic (for a family film) scene where Rex basically abuses his partner. He is luckily stopped by the farmer.
Domestic violence is a major, global problem. Men’s violence to women has been dealt with in movies, television shows and literature, but is rarely mentioned in children’s/family films. That Rex’s attack is not sugar-coated despite the scene being in a family film is very brave and important, and is a means to discuss one of the more unfortunate sides of world with this age group (though this should be limited and done delicately, and using the animal of “Rex” is a good distancing mechanism).
After the audience sees Rex as the typical male bully, Fly tells Babe the story of why Rex became who he became. Actually he used to be highly skilled at herding sheep. The tale of Rex’s tragic past tells of a horrible event which occurred directly before an important Sheep Dog event. Rex and Mr. Hoggett were going to participate in a major Sheep Dog trial, a sporting event where farmers and their dogs compete against one another by herding sheep through different obstacles. And Rex was no doubt going to be a great champion, but for the calamity which befell him before the event he did terribly at the sheep trials.
Rex and the farmer had tried to herd some sheep to safety during a storm, but lost a large amount of the sheep during the process. Rex had bravely returned for the lost sheep, located them in the torrential weather and attempted to save them from rising and deadly waters. Rex fails to save the confused and lost sheep and he himself nearly dies in the attempt becoming almost deaf through exposure. Rex has ever since had to deal with the bitterness of failing to save the sheep, of not being able to become the champion he so strongly wanted to be, and of having to accept he no longer is as “strong” as he used to be. He bottles up all these emotions, making him aggressive and overly controlling of others. He uses his anger as a way to deal with his disappointments, and to still prove to himself he is a strong and powerful animal.
Shortly after this reveal of Rex’s almost deafness, Babe also makes the discovery that pigs have no other function on farms than to be eaten. Babe, in utter disgust and shock, runs away from home. When Fly discovers that Babe has run away, she fears that something bad will happen to him and asks Rex for help. Rex realizes then that since Babe is so important to the farmer, Rex decides to help since he himself deeply cares for the farmer and wants his “boss” to be happy. When Babe is brought back to the farm, Rex tells Babe to pull himself together as Mr. Hoggett needs him, since Mr. Hoggett has just recently signed himself and Babe up for the upcoming sheep trials. Unlike his previous speeches to Babe, where he is demanding Babe to “stay in his place”, this speech is encouraging, informing Babe of his importance. Rex for the first time isn’t trying to just be in control. He is showing concern.
Rex goes from being the stereotypical “alpha” male who that has little empathic feelings to an emotional creature trying to connect with the community of the farm and its inhabitants. We see, before change is foisted on Rex, that his attempt to contain and control his own feelings and personality has lead to a seething and uncontrollable anger becoming a pool of oppressive emotion and frustration. As the film nears its climax, Rex’s character transforms from the bully he once was into a honest and kinder animal.
Lastly in the narrative of growth, communication, and compassion in the tale, Rex, in order to assist Babe during a sheep trial, turns to the Farm’s sheep for advice. Since they speak so softly, he says: “You have to speak up. I’m a hard of hearing”. Rex finally, as a final growth in his character, confesses his disablement. The Sheep do not ridicule him for his hearing difficulty. Rex learns here there is no shame in admitting weakness. He also comes to terms with his past, but decides that the most important thing is to not focus on the tragedies that took place long ago. He decides to try and help Babe, since once again he can’t deny how important Mr. Hoggett is to him.
The representation of Rex is interesting in the way the film allows Rex, as a macho and dominate male, to develop and transform into a more understanding and honest character. To grow he must alter his relationship, and thoughts on Babe and finally, in this changed attitude to the gentle pig, come to admit his weakness and let go of the past. Rex is freed from his stereotypical role as the dominant male by first explaining his actions through past traumas and letting Rex himself realize he should change his views and relations to the world. Rex goes from a potential antagonist to an important protagonist, giving an interesting idea of masculinity which can grow into a strong empathy and communication.
Rex becomes truly a powerful male when he decides to admit weakness and has concern and love for others around him.