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Babe, a mop-topped piglet, avoids the farmer's chopping block by learning to herd sheep.


However twee this farmyard adventure - in which the principal roles are filled by "talking" animals - sounds, it proves so wildly hilarious and absolutely captivating that hitherto unrepentant carnivores will come out seriously entertaining vegetarianism. Babe is an innocent, frankly irresistable piglet, whisked from breeding pen to village fete to the barnyard of Farmer Hoggett (Cromwell) whose fat, rosy wife (Magda Szubanski) is planning a Christmas dinner of roast pork. But Babe has "an unprejudiced heart" and loads of pluck, affecting the lives of everyone on the farm and altering the little porker's destiny.

Adapted superbly from British writer Dick King-Smith's charming children's book The Sheep Pig by producer and co-writer, George Miller, whose ten-year labour of love this is, the film boasts meticulous blending of real livestock with animatronic doubles and seemlessly plausible dubbed voice performances, notably from Christine Cavanaugh as Babe and Miriam Margolyes and Hugo Weaving as Hoggett's sheepdogs Fly and Rex. Longtime Miller colleague Chris Noonan makes his feature debut with witty invention, delightful pace and, apparently, the serenity of St. Francis in choreographing his four-footed and feathered company to magnificently funny and exciting effect.

The story itself, narrated by Roscoe Lee Browne and a zany chorus of singing mice, has a sweet, touching simplicity that will enchant children, while operating just as nicely on a more mature level with it's gentler echoes of Orwell's Animal Farm. The impulses of human behaviour, from generosity and selflessness to bigotry and foolishness, are all on display through incidents that encompass a violent death and such comic highlights as a burglary carried out by the piggy and a neurotic duck.

Babe's heroic triumph at the climax brought a spontaneous eruption of cheering at an early preview from an audience that ranged from toddlers to grandparents in addition to the crustier critical contingent.

This reviewer for one, hasn't been able to face a pork chop in the months since, and is still laughing at the vibrant joyousness of this delicious comic fable.