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Babe is a genuinely charming children's film

Babe

Directed by Chris Noonan.

Written by George Miller and Chris Noonan.

Starring James Cromwell and Magda Szubanski.

Sony Copley Place.


By Scott Deskin
Chairman

Babe is about a talking pig. The pig can't talk to humans, mind you: The story is told primarily from the perspective of farm animals who converse in English. The pig is named Babe, and once he begins life on a rural farm, he finds he must overcome human and animal prejudice with his charm and resourcefulness, lest he end up the main course for Christmas dinner.

Okay, that's a sizable simplification of the plot. It's a familiar fable, one whose moral could be "Don't judge a book by its cover." Babe is rescued from a life plumping up for the slaughterhouse: As the runt of the litter, he is taken to a country fair where he is claimed in a raffle by the slightly bemused and bewildered Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell). When he arrives at his new home, he finds himself alienated by the older, wiser animals. With no other pigs to comfort him, Babe feels sad and lonely, but one of the dogs on the farm raises him as one of her own pups. Thus begins his education on the farm.

A varied cast of animal characters carries the bulk of the film. An old ewe warns Babe of the treachery of wolves (and dogs) who attack the herds of defenseless sheep, casting some doubt in Babe's heart about his surrogate mother's true feelings about other farm animals. In one of the film's lighter moments, a crafty duck named Ferdinand enlists Babe to fetch the alarm clock from within the house - the clock which renders the duck's crowing job (and thus the duck's very existence) obsolete. Naturally, disaster ensues, and Babe's social status on the farm is imperiled.

To atone for his mistake, Babe tries to find a purpose for his life on the farm: He does so by herding sheep, just as his surrogate mother does. Hoggett notices his pig's strange behavior and he tries to cultivate it into a talent. Both Babe's and Hoggett's aspirations turn life on the farm upside-down, much to the dismay of Mrs. Hoggett (Magda Szubanski), who thinks her husband's gone insane when he enters the pig in a regional sheepdog contest.

The notion of the prize-winning pig goes back to E. B. White's Charlotte's Web - a story that Babe approaches more closely than, say, George Orwell's Animal Farm. The best thing about the film is the impressive use of animatronics for the talking animals: Nothing looks fake or phony when they move their jaws to speak. Moreover, the film wins points by recapitulating social themes like communication and prejudice with a facile touch that never gets heavy-handed.

Although adults will enjoy the film, Babe is more of a kids' movie. It lacks a truly satisfying ending and opts for a standard fairy tale resolution of matters. But it is a genuinely charming and well-made film whose success really says something in an era of "classic" Disney animation. Co-writer/producer George Miller (The Road Warrior, Lorenzo's Oil) and director Chris Noonan offer this film as a genuine reminder that all creatures, great and small, are indeed valuable.