|Winsome pig, wacky duck|
by Andrew Lansdown
Babe was a sensation when it first screened in the cinemas in 1995. It is a delightful film and now belongs with the classics.
Babe is the tale of a plucky little pig who aspires to be a sheep dog.
Won in a raffle by Farmer Hoggett, the piglet is let loose in the farmyard and promptly adopted by a sheep dog and her pups. Called “Pig” by Farmer Hoggett and “Babe” by the farm animals, he quickly wins the hearts of his companions with his innocent, intelligent, courageous and kindly ways.
Babe becomes the hero of the farmyard on Christmas day when he discovers thieves rounding up Farmer Hoggett’s sheep. He alerts the sheep dogs, who alert their master, who scares off the poachers.
Farmer Hogget, whose wise and gentle character is the human counterpart of Babe, begins to take a special interest in his porcine raffle prize. He recognises Babe’s special qualities and gives him a chance to achieve his dream to become a sheep dog—or rather, a sheep pig.
The film abounds with delightful characters. My favourite is a duck called Ferdinand.
Ferdinand wants to be a rooster. Each morning he clambers to the farmhouse roof and crows to wake up the farmyard. His behaviour infuriates the rooster, who is always beaten to the pip by a few seconds.
Mrs Hoggett is not endeared by Ferdinand’s antics, either. “We’ve got to do something about that duck,” she says to Mr Hoggett.
The following morning, as usual, Ferdinand races to the roof-top just ahead of the rooster. But as he flaps his wings and stretches his neck to crow, an alarm clock rings noisily. Ferdinand and the rooster look at each other in disbelief.
Mrs Hoggett sits up in bed and says cheerfully to Mr Hoggett as she turns off the alarm, “I was worried that it might have a harsh tone, but that’s quite a nice musical ring, don’t you think? … What a splendid way to wake up each morning.”
Ferdinand is devastated and devises a plan to destroy the clock. Needing a willing accomplice who is reliable, beyond suspicion, and extremely gullible, he approaches Babe for help.
After Ferdinand explains all that has to be done, Babe says, “I don’t think I can do it. It’s against the rules. Only cats and dogs are allowed in the house.”
Ferdinand replies, “I like that rule. It’s a good rule. But this is bigger than rules. This is life and death.”
“Look, there’s something you should know,” Ferdinand explains. “Humans eat ducks!”
Babe is shocked. “I beg your pardon?”
“Aw, most ducks prefer to forget it,” Ferdinand says. “But the fact is that humans like to eat plump, attractive ducks.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Babe replies. “Not the boss. Not the boss’s wife.”
Ferdinand is adamant. “Oh, come on! Humans don’t eat cats. Why? They’re indispensable. They catch mice. Humans don’t eat roosters. Why? They make eggs with the hens and wake everyone up in the morning. I tried it with the hens. It didn’t work. So I turned to crowing, and, lo, I discovered my gift. But no sooner do I become indispensable than they bring in a machine to do the job! Oh the treachery of it! A mechanical rooster!”
Babe now understands that the mechanical rooster has robbed Ferdinand of his sense of purpose, jeopardising not only his feelings of self-worth, but also his very life. So he agrees to help.
Needless to say, the scheme to destroy the alarm clock goes horribly wrong. As a result, Babe is disgraced and Ferdinand becomes a fugitive.
But Ferdinand is far from repentant. Some days later, in the still of dawn, he hollers from the roof-top in a distinctly clockish voice, “Ding-a-ling-a-ling!” Having reaffirmed his gift, recaptured his sense of purpose, and bested the mechanical rooster all in one, he flaps to the ground and waddles triumphantly away.
What a duck! What a pig! What a film!
Babe offers a welcome relief to the swinish quality of many modern films. Its box office earnings ($250 million in the first year) and its critical acclaim (seven Oscar nominations) demonstrate that films do not have to be filled with swearing, violence and sleaze to be successful. Perhaps that is the moral film makers should take to heart.
But the moral that touched my heart involves that wacky duck. Ferdinand knew that there has to be a purpose to living. Without it, life is futile. And futility is deadly.
Of course, outside of fantasy tales like Babe, animals do not aspire to goals or long for purpose. But human beings most certainly do. There is more to us than there is to animals—something spiritual and complex and eternal. And that something drives us to find a point to our existence.
Many things give meaning to our lives. We find purpose in our work, our sport, our hobbies and our families. To provide for the children, to expand the stamp collection, to improve the golf handicap, to get a promotion at work—these are generally good and legitimate purposes to live for. But somehow, in the face of our mortality and our yearnings, they are not enough. Indeed, it seems that these purposes themselves depend for their significance on some larger Purpose.
But what? What is that larger, fundamental Purpose—that Purpose that gives significance to all our lesser purposes and is alone worthy of our full devotion?
The time-honoured Westminster Catechism answers the question this way: “Man’s chief end [aim] is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” This is an accurate summary of the Bible’s answer (cf Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; Micah 6:8; Luke 10:25-28).
The primary purpose of our existence is to honour and obey God so that we may enjoy the blessings of his love forever. All our self-worth and well-being depend on our appreciation and pursuit of this Purpose. Or to quote Ferdinand: This is life and death!