So over the years, I’ve noticed a pattern: if I read the book first, I love the book more. If I see the movie first, I love the movie more. It’s strange but true. Something about those first impressions, I think.
There are, of course, exceptions. Actually, the BBC’s Pride & Prejudice comes to mind. I don’t exactly love it more – but when I read Pride & Prejudice, the BBC actors ARE the book characters! But dearly beloved books, like The Hundred and One Dalamations and Little Women, just to name a few, have been utterly destroyed by the movies. Some movie adaptations I can get through by pretending that it’s a completely different story that just happens to have the same title (The Hundred and One Dalamatians, actually), but others fill me with such rage that I can’t. Even. Handle. It.
Then there are the weird, rare occasions where I actually like the movie better. The most obvious example is The Princess Bride. While the book is actually quite fabulous and witty, it’s a little more cynical and cold than the movie. The movie version captures the intelligence and delightful dialogue of the book, while coming across as much warmer and lighthearted.
All of that rambling brings us, in due course, to Babe the Gallant Pig. I first read this book as a child. The first King-Smith book I discovered was actually The Fox Busters, which is, as an aside, absolutely brilliant. I soon realized that King-Smith was a (very) prolific author, and devoured many of his other stories. Some were rather meh reads, but others, like The Queen’s Nose, The Water Horse, Harry’s Mad, and Babe, became instant favorites.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Babe is the story of a sheep farmer who wins a pig at a fair. Farmer Hogget has every intention of feeding the pig out and slaughtering him for Christmas, but Babe becomes close friends with Hogget’s border collie, Fly. His friendship with Fly leads Babe to try his best to be a pig who herds sheep: a sheep-pig. The story unwinds delightfully and gently. Babe is guaranteed a long life when he rescues the flock from sheep rustlers, and, in the end, his sheep-pig dream is realized, too.
King-Smith’s books frequently come through almost more as outlines of stories than full-fledged books. They’re children’s books, so that’s part of it. While all of his stories could use a little more fleshing out, he still manages to give clear character sketches with just a few lines.
“I knows that,” said Mrs. Hogget, “because I’m late now with all these cakes and jams and pickles and preserves as is meant to be on the Produce Stall this very minute, and who’s going to take them there, I’d like to know, why you are, but afore you does, what’s that noise?”
The squealing sounded again.
Mrs. Hogget nodded a great many times. Everything that she did was done at great length, whether it was speaking or simply nodding her head. Farmer Hogget, on the other hand, never wasted his energies or his words.
“Pig,” he said.
My edition has delightful pen-and-ink drawings by Mary Rayner that really add a lot to the story. Illustrations are especially important in children’s books, and I am always happy to find ones that are simple, realistic, and actually follow the story.
There isn’t a lot of depth to Babe, but it is still a wonderful little book that I highly recommend.
But what about the movie?? Well, I simply cannot decide whether I prefer the book or the movie. The movie adds a lot to the story, actually, by introducing several extra characters, such as Ferdinand the duck, Rex (Fly’s mate), and the evil Cat. None of these exist in the original story, but they work really well in the movie. The movie does a great job of retaining the spirit and basic storyline of the book, while fleshing it out a great deal.
Honestly, what holds me back from wholeheartedly endorsing the movie is the fact that, in the movie, the Hoggets have grandchildren, and they are so obnoxious. Unbelievably obnoxious. The Hoggets children spend a lot of time nagging their parents about how the Hoggets need to “get with the times” and embrace technology and modernization. Farmer Hogget spends hours carefully constructing an absolutely beautiful dollhouse for his granddaughter who, when she opens it on Boxing Day, responds by wailing and screaming that it isn’t like the one she saw on the telly. UGH.
The silly thing, the movie on the whole is absolutely delightful. It’s so well done. All the animal characters are fantastic, the narration wonderful, and Farmer and Mrs. Hogget are EXACTLY as one would picture them. But those grandchildren, and the way the Hogget’s children are so disdainful about their parents’ life just really is quite terrible.
So, final verdict? Definitely read the book, because it’s only about a hundred pages (full of pictures) and adorable. Then watch the movie, because it’s great, too. Just fast forward through the big where the Hogget’s family comes to visit for Christmas.