Movie Reviews— The Straight Story and Babe: Pig in the City
reviews by Shannon Bowman-Sarkisian
The Straight Story is a strange marriage between Disney Studios and surrealist filmmaker David Lynch. There are so many reasons this movie shouldn’t work. Why would Disney’s target audience of children and parents be interested in a movie about an old man driving a lawnmower across state lines to visit his ailing brother? Why would Lynch’s fans, who love television series and films like Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet and Lost Highway, want to see a Disney movie? Perhaps Tinker Bell sprinkled some fairy dust on the celluloid film, because somehow The Straight Story works well enough to have received 12 awards and 29 award nominations, including a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Richard Farnsworth.
Inspired by true events, The Straight Story chronicles the 240-mile journey of Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), a 73-year-old man who travelled from Laurens, Iowa, to Mt. Zion, Wis., on a John Deere lawnmower to visit his ill, estranged brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton). Farnsworth meets many quirky small-town characters on his journey, a trope with director David Lynch’s signature style all over it. Unlike many of his other works, The Straight Story is told linearly, without the many twists and turns most Lynch films are famous for. That isn’t to say that this is a dull film. Like Farnsworth’s lawnmower, it has a slow, steady pace that is incredibly engaging. Audiences who are put off by Lynch, Disney or lawnmowers needn’t fear The Straight Story. It isn’t anything like what you’ve imagined.
The Straight Story, available on DVD, is rated G. Running time: 112 minutes.
Babe: Pig in the City, the sequel to 1995’s Babe, is so full of mishaps for the sheepherding pig that Crisis, Pursued by Disaster, Followed Closely by Catastrophe — the name of Mike O’Connor’s memoir — seems a more apt title. Things go awry for Babe (voiced by Elizabeth Daily) almost immediately with an accident that leaves farmer Arthur Hoggett (James Cromwell) unable to work. Cruel twists of fate continue to torment Babe and Hoggett’s wife Esme (Magda Szubanski) for most of the film.
With the idyllic farm in jeopardy of foreclosure, Esme and Babe must travel to a state farm exhibition in order to make some fast cash. An unfortunate misunderstanding with an over-zealous drug-sniffing dog has Esme detained at the airport. The pig and his human miss their flight and find themselves lost and alone in a fantastical mash-up of a city — a place where the Hollywood Sign, Golden Gate Bridge, Sydney Opera House, and Statue of Liberty loom in the distance. Canals wind their way through Gaudí-like buildings.
With a G rating, Babe: Pig in the City seems like it would be rather tame, especially since its predecessor was beautifully made but mostly harmless. However, this is a children’s movie with hard edges. It expresses distrust for banks — whose representatives have “soulless eyes” — and people with authority, most of whom either harm or do nothing to help Esme and Babe. Terrible things happen. The sets and lighting are dark and foreboding. This is a fairy tale the way such tales used to be written. It does not pull punches, nor does it pretend the world is easy to navigate.
Babe: Pig in the City, available on DVD, is rated G. Running time: 97 minutes.