For all its sublime charms, Babe’s most endearing attribute may be its universality, which extends from its episodic tale’s lessons about tolerance to its Hoggett farm setting, a storybook locale that feels at once Midwestern American, rural English, and sleepy countryside Australian. Based on Dick King-Smith’s children’s book “The Sheep-Dog,” Chris Noonan’s film (co-written with producer George Miller) isn’t novel in its desire to impart morals via an anthropomorphic animal fable. Yet the director’s realization of his material is pitch-perfect, with its seemingly effortless synthesis of humor and pathos almost as wonderful as is its ability to capture the sense of awe and fear that attends youth’s initial exposure to the big wide world. Separated from his family (who are sent to the slaughterhouse they believe to be heaven), piglet Babe (voiced by Christine Cavanaugh) fortuitously winds up at the home of Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell), where he’s exposed to a diverse animal population – including loving dog Fly (Miriam Margolyes), her mean mate Rex (Hugo Weaving), and rascally duck Ferdinand (Danny Mann) – and where he proves, through pure-hearted naïveté and kindness, that character is self-defined and that differences from the norm are to be embraced rather than feared. Such themes might have been treated with manipulative mawkishness by a more aggressive directorial hand, but Noonan’s approach is sentimental without being unduly syrupy, his handling of triumph and tragedy distinguished by an aesthetic and narrative classicism as well as a respect for his pint-sized audience’s intelligence. Clearly drawn two- and four-legged characters (including Cromwell’s superb performance as the naturally iconoclastic farmer) and an expertly choreographed child’s POV are also essential facets of Babe’s appeal, though its account of the little pig’s status quo-defying quest to become a champion sheepherder is ultimately more than the sum of its parts – and, in fact, is more (engaging, amusing, clever) than virtually every comparable kid’s film of the past ten years.