Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr The 2016 Academy Award nominations were announced last week, and, to no one’s surprise, there were a number of the usual maddening snubs, particularly with regard to films, such as Creed and Straight Outta Compton, that featured people of color both onscreen and off. One bright spot among the nominees was George Miller’s kinetic masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road, which drew 10 nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. In 2007, Miller took home an Oscar when Happy Feet was named Best Animated Feature. But Fury Road won’t mark Miller’s first time on the red carpet for a live-action movie. In 1995, he was nominated as a co-producer (and, separately, as a co-screenwriter) on another (very different) improbable commercial and critical phenomenon. That remarkable film was Babe. Released 20 years ago, this unlikely Best Picture nominee from Australia featured a large cast of chatty farm animals — and a few human performers (including James Cromwell, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor). Directed by Chris Noonan, Babe was, in the opening words of its narrator, “a tale about an unprejudiced heart.” Babe’s eponymous star, an adorable pig voiced by Christine Cavanaugh, must make himself indispensable to The Boss (Cromwell) and his wife Esme (Magda Szubanski), lest Babe fulfill his presumptive destiny as Christmas dinner. Babe triumphs against his adversaries and defies all odds not with unflinching toughness and might (though he’s plenty tough and mighty, especially when provoked), but with unwavering empathy, kindness and good manners. An oinking Imperator Furiosa he most certainly is not. If Babe was a massive success in spite of itself, the movie’s 1998 sequel, with Miller at the directorial helm, flopped spectacularly for not being what audiences wanted or expected. Babe: Pig in the City confounded both film critics and regular moviegoers. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were, notably, outspoken champions of Pig in the City, but the film’s darker tone and almost surrealist execution were baffling to most viewers. The Hollywood establishment that even now prepares to laud Fury Road for its eccentricity was just not getting it when Pig in the City opened 17 years ago. The time is right for a reevaluation. Miller took Babe’s ending as his sequel’s beginning (all but to the very second), then (literally) flew away from everything fans of Babe loved and were eager to revisit. Instead, Miller sends Babe off the farm and into the bustling Metropolis — which, like the small farm Babe calls home, exists “just a little to the left of the 20th century,” as our narrator tells us — where the skyline includes an architectural mashup of Big Ben and the Sydney opera house, the Space Needle, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Eiffel Tower and the Chrysler building. Miller’s brilliant Pig in the City has none of the baroque violence of Fury Road, but both films, in their quite different, quite marvelous ways, attend to the question of how to “mend a sorry world.” With Pig in the City, George Miller followed Babe’s stranger-in-a-strange-land theme to its natural, absurdist conclusion. His Metropolis is menacing, and its denizens are wild and weird. This place exists in the same spiritual universe that will eventually birth the biker gangs of Mad Max’s vast wasteland. As in the first Babe film, our porcine hero (here voiced by Elizabeth Daily) confronts a number of mammalian skeptics (both human and four-legged). The apes, canines and felines of the Flealands Hotel — the picture’s primary setting — are world weary and a bit broken. Though Babe may be a provincial hayseed in their eyes early on, he becomes a beacon of unadulterated optimism, a figure of hope. When things fall apart at the hotel, the hardened city animals are revealed to be feckless and fangless. Only Babe, the gentle outsider, however credulous and seemingly weak, can save the day. Pig in the City is, ultimately, an antidote to the fascistic impulse to meet adversity with blinkered violence and cruel prejudice. Needless to say, it resonates with this American viewer now more than ever. Of course, Pig in the City remains a children’s movie at heart, though to be exact, it’s really a delirious romp, a madcap caper, a wry satire. Its excellent screenplay — penned by Miller, Judy Morris, and Mark Lamprell — erupts with sparkling dialogue and more than a few endlessly quotable one-liners. Visually, Pig in the City offered Miller a testing ground from which Fury Road roared. The action sequences range from frenetic chases (on wheels and by hoof) to a grandly orchestrated, balletic interior set piece. Babe: Pig in the City largely discarded what came before it — be it a cast, a setting, a sensibility. And for that it was punished. Still, George Miller has won over his critics. Little do they know, Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t a sequel to Beyond Thunderdome but to a deeply bizarre, heartwarming parable starring a talking pig.