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Babe's power endures 20 years on

Twenty years ago, Babe the gallant pig came into our lives and taught us that an unprejudiced heart can change the established order.

After all, if Babe could successfully take on the role of a sheepdog to win a sheep-herding contest at the county fair, anything was possible.

George Miller's 1995 film adaptation of Dick King-Smith's 1983 novel The Sheep-Pig, directed by Chris Noonan, was a surprise hit, grossing over $US250 million ($A335.66 million) at the box office worldwide.

The composer of the movie's recognisable soundtrack, Nigel Westlake, says he and the movie's makers didn't realise what a hit the film was going to be when they first started the project.

"We used to talk, me and all the sound guys and the director, about how much we loved it when we were making it, but we thought it was a bit quirky for a mainstream audience. We thought `what a shame no one is ever going to see it. It will end up on the back shelf of the video store'," he told AAP.

"I remember after we finished making it I went to watch it at the cinema and I couldn't believe it, the cinema was jam-packed and not with kids, with everyone. And people were laughing and crying and I thought `this is very powerful'."

The film soon went to No.1 at box offices around the world, and Westlake says they were pinching themselves for months.

The composer was very much a part of the Babe family as the music is such an integral part in directing the audience's feelings towards the talking animals on screen.

"The music isn't a score that takes a back seat, it's very much a hands-on score," Westlake said.

The music has more power in helping the audience form their opinions about the characters than viewers might realise.

"We discussed how the music should support the story of the animals so on the one hand you'll notice all the music that's used to accompany the drama around the animals' lives is quite serious. It's trying to imbue them with a sense of depth and emotional engagement," he said.

"Whereas most of the music used when we see humans on screen is almost like a caricature, like the sort of thing you might expect from an animal cartoon."

In one of the first scenes Westlake worked on, he was very clearly attempting to turn long-held perceptions completely upside down.

"The animals are lamenting the fact that Christmas time has arrived and they're all lamenting the fact that they're all going to end up on the table carved up, and what a sham the whole Christmas thing is and Christmas means carnage," he said.

"So that's kind of a nightmare realisation for them. So it was very funny thing to work on."

The orchestral soundtrack of Babe has been re-released with new orchestration recorded by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Westlake is even taking it to the stage.

The film will be screened while the Melbourne Symphony plays the score live at the Hamer Hall this weekend.

"We're there to enhance the visual aspects of the movie and bring it to life," Westlake said.

"Im hoping it will create a synergistic effect where the music is working with the picture and people can still have the ability to lose themselves in the narrative without getting distracted."

* Babe Orchestral soundtrack is out now on ABC Classics.

AAP

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