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15 Fun Facts About Babe

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It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years (to the day) since a tiny pink piglet named Babe stole the heart of audiences around the world, and turned many of them into lifelong vegetarians (more on that later). What’s almost even harder to believe is that the heartwarming story of a pig who wants to be a sheepdog was partially ushered into existence by George Miller, the same man who brought us Mad Max. Here are 15 things you might not know about the little piggy that could.

1. JAMES CROMWELL THOUGHT THE ORIGINAL IDEA WAS SILLY.

When actor James Cromwell first heard about Babe, which is based on Dick King-Smith's novel, “I thought it sounded silly,” he told Vegetarian Times. “I was mostly counting the lines to see how much of a role the farmer had.”

2. FARMER HOGGETT HAD JUST 16 LINES.

But by that point, Cromwell was already sold on the script, intrigued by what he called the “sophisticated yet pure-of-heart piglet.” And he clearly made the right call: The part earned Cromwell an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

3. FORTY-EIGHT PIGS PLAYED THE ROLE OF BABE.

Because pigs grow quickly, the crew utilized four dozen Large White Yorkshire piglets throughout the course of filming, shooting six at a time over a three-week period. A total of 48 pigs were filmed, though only 46 of them made it to the screen.

4. THERE WAS ALSO ONE ANIMATRONIC PIG.

Animal trainer Karl Lewis Miller seemed almost embarrassed to admit that they did have one animatronic pig, too. This is the pig they used for wide shots—when there was at least 15 feet surrounding Babe all the way around, and no place for Miller to hide.

5. THERE WERE 970 ANIMALS ON SET IN ALL.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Karl Lewis Miller—who had 59 people assisting him—said that, all told, there were 970 animals used for the film, though only 500 of them actually made it into the movie. This included pigs and dogs, of course, plus cats, cows, horses, ducks, goats, mice, pigeons, and sheep, too. Baa-ram-ewe indeed!

6. BABE IS A GIRL.

While this is never explicitly stated in the movie, because a male pig’s private parts would have been visible on film, all of the pigs used for filming were females.

7. BABE IS ALSO DEXTER.

In addition to voicing the titular piglet, voice actor Christine Cavanaugh—who passed away in December—lent her vocal chords to more than 75 projects over the years, including the title role in Dexter’s Laboratory, Chuckie Finster on Rugrats, and Gosalyn Mallard on Darkwing Duck.

8. THE FILM WAS BANNED IN MALAYSIA.

Not wanting to upset its Muslim community, to whom pigs are haram, Malaysia banned the family flick from screening in its theaters. But its proscription didn’t stick; the film was released on VHS about a year later.

9. PORK PRODUCT SALES DROPPED IN 1995.

In December 1995, just four months after Babe hit theaters, Vegetarian Times ran a story about the problems facing the pork industry. Among the factors contributing to the industry’s slump, according to writer Amy O’Connor, was “the motion picture Babe, featuring an adorable porcine protagonist and a strong vegetarian message.” She went on to note that, “This year, the U.S. Department Agriculture showed stagnant demand for pork, while retail sales of canned meats such as Spam hit a five-year low.”

10. SALES OF PET PIGS INCREASED.

In The Apocalyptic Animal of Late Capitalism, author Laura Elaine Hudson is unable to substantiate claims that pork sales dropped a full 25 percent in the U.S. following the release of Babe, as some sources claimed, but she did find that sales of pet pigs increased—as did, eventually, the number of abandoned pigs.

11. THE FILM TURNED MANY VIEWERS INTO VEGETARIANS.

Babe’s popularity—and its main character’s adorableness—led to many fans of the movie (particularly young viewers) adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. So widespread was the practice that it became known as “The Babe Effect,” and fans of the film who went meatless became known as “Babe vegetarians.”

12. JAMES CROMWELL IS A “BABE VEGAN.”

Among those individuals whose eating habits were altered by Babe was the movie’s human star. Though he had been a vegetarian decades before, Cromwell “decided that to be able to speak about this [movie] with conviction, I needed to become a vegetarian again.”

13. MRS. HOGGETT WAS AGED UP.

Magda Szubanski, who plays the farmer’s wife Esme, was only 34 years old at the time of the film’s release. She logged lots of time in the makeup chair in order to pass as the wife of her then-55-year-old co-star.

14. JERRY GOLDSMITH WAS HIRED TO SCORE THE FILM.

And he wrote a good deal of it, but he and George Miller’s ideas for what it should sound like did not mesh. So Goldsmith was replaced by Nigel Westlake.

15. IT WAS NOMINATED FOR BEST PICTURE.

Among the film’s seven Academy Award nominations (yes, seven) was a nod for Best Picture, which pit the pig film against an impressive lineup that included Sense and Sensibility, Il Postino, Apollo 13, and Braveheart (which took home the award). The film did win one Oscar: it beat out Apollo 13 for Best Visual Effects.

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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