The director has populated Hoggett's impossibly quaint farm, which is set in an idyllic countryside of green rolling hills, with a variety of talking animals. Besides Babe himself, there are the kindly sheepdog Fly, her gruff mate, Rex, a cruel cat, a duck, Ferdinand, who, having realized that animals without an obvious function on the farm tend to end up as dinner, has decided to learn how to crow like a rooster, and countless others besides these. While almost all of these individuals are absolutely brimming with cuteness, the director somehow prevents this quality from becoming false or annoying. In fact, the different animals are, without exception, a joy to watch. Babe, even with his adorable little voice and sweet disposition, is actually wonderfully endearing. He is kind, good-hearted, and gentle in a way that always seems true and is always enchanting.
What is more, not only is the movie appealing thanks to this assortment of characters, but it is also structured in a unique way that greatly adds to its charm. Babe is divided into a number of chapters, each of which is introduced by a placard giving its title, which is sung by three mice who appear in a bulls-eye below the written words. These chapters each revolve around a given occurrence in Babe's life and each has its own trajectory. The movie is not episodic, however. Every one of its different chapters adds to the others so that together they tell a coherent and involving story.
Fortunately, this tale is as touching as it is captivating. While it is often tinged with a distinct sadness, this sense of melancholy is so lovely that it invariably enthralls the viewer. At the film's beginning, for instance, the moviegoer is shown how Babe's mother is led off to be slaughtered, although she and the other pigs in the barn with her believe that they are being taken to a place so wonderful that no pig has ever wanted to return therefrom. Later, the viewer is shown how the poor piglet misses her, how he is adopted by Fly, who takes pity upon him, how he befriends Ferdinand, who hopes to use the pig to steal a recently purchased alarm clock which, the duck believes, threatens his new purpose in life, how he learns to herd sheep, despite his own lack of aggression and Rex's disapproval of his not acting like a pig, how he realizes that his mother was eaten by men and that Farmer Hoggett himself eats pigs, and so on and so on. Each of these incidents, even those suffused with a poignant sorrow, are sure to make the viewer smile.
Finally, I should add that the diverse animals appearing in the story are a joy to see. They are, at times, portrayed by actual animals, but, at other times, as when they are speaking to one another, they are portrayed by puppets. These latter really are amazing to look at. Even without its narrative, the puppets would make watching the film a real pleasure.
I cannot begin to compliment Babe enough. It may not be a work of art, but it is so charming and inventively realized that it is sure to mesmerize most any viewer.
Review by Keith Allen
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