'Babe' Is La-La-La-La Late

Universal Studios can't bring home the bacon just yet.

Babe: Pig in the City, the most important movie of the year for the beleaguered company, is taking longer to complete than expected. As a result, the studio has been forced to cancel its star-studded benefit premiere and a weekend publicity event, officials said Wednesday.

But Universal insisted the sequel to 1995's Oscar-nominated film Babe will be ready for its critical Nov. 25 opening over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend. It also said the film should be available for reviewers a few days before the opening.

"It's due to the extraordinary amount of special effects in the film," Universal said of the delay. "The editing process has taken longer than we had anticipated."

Returning James Cromwell as Farmer Hoggett, Babe: Pig in the City brings the sweet-hearted swine to the urban jungle. The film features wide use of computer-generated effects to make the barnyard animals appear to talk and required an unusually long nine-month shooting schedule, which wrapped up in June.

The follow-up to the $63.6 million-grossing Babe has been seen as Universal's strongest film of the year, and the studio built an ambitious merchandising campaign around it. The movie also has the potential to do stellar business when it comes out on video.

Because of the film delay, Universal canceled its Sunday's world premiere at Universal City to benefit the Children's Defense Fund, a leading nonprofit child advocacy group. The benefit committee included Robin Williams, John Travolta and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Universal is refunding money to people who bought tickets and making a donation to the fund, the studio said.

"We are very sorry we have to cancel the Babe: Pig in the City benefit premiere," Universal said. "Unfortunately, we were unable to make this deadline in order to prepare for the nationwide release."

Universal also canceled this weekend's media event in which reporters could interview the film's stars. Such events typically generate mountains of free publicity for films.

Universal is badly in need of a hit. The studio has struggled this year with a slate of disappointing films such as Primary Colors, Out of Sight and BASEketball, placing Universal next to last among major studios in market share, ahead only of troubled MGM. Universal has yet to have a film this year grossing more than $40 million.

Written by Michael Fleeman