In "Babe," Farmer Hoggett adopts a naive but big-hearted little pig who learns sheepherding, teaches tolerance to the other farmyard animals and proves to be worth much more than a holiday pork roast. (Rated G)
Talking-animal stories usually delight children who have always suspected there's more to barnyard conversations than "oink," "quack" and "moo." In this live-action film, snouts and beaks move by way of sophisticated special effects to say things such as "May I call you Mom?" or "Christmas means carnage."
As might be expected, children--and childlike adults--universally adored the animals--especially the raspy piglet politely herding the sheep or trying to sing "fa la la la" at Christmas.
But many youngsters were divided over scenes of violence and a technical device that separated the movie into sections. Some never got into it at all, and the aisles of the sold-out theater were busy with parents carrying out bored or upset preschoolers.
Among the fans were 12-year-old Samantha Norton and her friend Hilary Klein, 11, who said in unison, "It was cute!" Even the popular, whale-size movie star Willy can't beat the cuteness of small, furry, talking things, especially puppies, Samantha said. "Everybody goes, 'Awwwwwww.' "
According to Madeline Scinto, 9, "Babe" definitely outdid the classic talking pig, Wilbur of "Charlotte's Web." "It's real," she said. "It's not a cartoon. I mean, it's like, warm."
Injecting a note of skepticism, her brother Daniel, 8, suggested she only thought that "because it's new and 'Charlotte's Web' is so old."
Some children liked that the movie was sectioned into chapters with titles such as "Crime and Punishment" and "A Tragic Day." Harry Oranges, 9, liked the chipper mice who read or sang the titles in chipmunk voices. But 4-year-old Ally MacLean thought the movie was over at each fade-out and finally asked to leave after 20 minutes of the 90-minute film.
Her sister Holly, 7, kept asking the meaning of such words as "tragic" and "destiny."
Some animal-lovers were saddened when wild dogs attack and kill a kindly ewe and alarmed when Farmer Hoggett mistakenly blames the piglet and almost exacts a fatal revenge.
Some were also turned off by the threat of death hanging over the pigs and ducks. The movie opens with Babe being rescued from a sunless piggery after his mother is taken off to slaughter.
When the Hoggett family sits down to a roast duck dinner, "at least they killed some duck you didn't really care for," reasoned Tyler Huff, 14.
It was enough to ruin a good hot dog for some kids, but not quite enough to inspire total vegetarianism. "We'd have to go watch a movie about cows first," Tyler said, adding that talking-animal movies aren't that high on his list anymore.
"It wasn't the best movie, but it was still pretty good. It's probably better for little kids."