All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. What’s true in George Orwell’s Animal Farm also applies to Babe. It stars a runty pig called Babe (and, sometimes, Pig), who doesn’t want to settle for being a plain old (read: edible) porker, and so learns to do a sheepdog’s job instead. He’s awesome.
It’s inspiring what real talent, imagination, and style can do, even without big-name humans as costars. Australian director Chris Noonan, making his feature film debut, and producer George Miller, the director of the Mad Max trilogy that pretty much defines style in the postapocalyptic outback, cowrote the Babe screenplay based on The Sheep-Pig, by British children’s novelist Dick King-Smith. They (and production designer Roger Ford) also invented the distinctive look of a magical world, set in an impossibly idyllic farm presided over by tall, lanky, taciturn, kind Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell from the Revenge of the Nerds oeuvre), and short, roly-poly, garrulous, kind Mrs. Hoggett (Magda Szubanski, credited as Australia’s top comedienne). The two maintain perfect pitch as a variation on Jack and Mrs. Sprat, but the real stars are the animals — including dogs, horses, cows, sheep, ducks, and mice as well as the fabulous Babe — all of whom speak. I mean, really speak, in English, with little lips flapping in a way that has nothing to do with TV’s Mr. Ed, thanks to computer and animatronic wizardry. Between the real animals and the impostors, the deft vocal cast (particularly Christine Cavanaugh — who’s also Chuckie on TV’s Rugrats —in the title role), and the sophisticated touches of humor (I’m partial to the chorus of field mice who announce each chapter of the story), this menagerie takes the bacon. A