Yet more evidence that box-office returns and actual merit have no necessary correspondence, this franchise-killing mega-flop may be the definitive children’s movie. This means first of all that it is tremendously fun, one of the most prodigiously, even profligately imaginative films ever made. Ideas, asides, jokes and stylistic flourishes are in practically inexhaustible supply; viewers will need multiple exposures to uncover all the aural, visual and conceptual treasures that this film has to offer. Just as importantly, and even more basically, this movie explores a great many of the major themes and questions of children’s literature, and it does so with wonderful clarity and feeling. This very depth was the source of much negative press at the time of the film’s release; the vulnerability of innocence in a corrupt and weary world is not glossed over here, and the results are not necessarily reassuring. But we find this kind of thing in many of the greatest of children’s stories, and like them, George Miller’s film demonstrates how valuable such explorations can be. If we’ll have it, the vivid portrayal of darkness serves to strengthen affirmations of virtue and hope. In such contexts the victory of these latter qualities actually means something. Not incidentally, it is in this affirmation that this film particularly distinguishes itself. Not content with simply defeating dark forces, Miller, through his wondrous protagonist (and not putting aside the contributions of Magna Szubanski’s superb Mrs. Hoggett), sets out to understand and transform them. With one amusing exception (Hortense!), this film will have no villains. This is most particularly demonstrated in an amazing sequence featuring Babe, a Doberman pinscher, a pit-bull and a lawn mower. In this sequence, and in the margins throughout the film, injustice, cruelty and horror are close and real and ultimately susceptible to the ministrations of kindness and mercy. The resonances here are considerable—I am put in mind of stories as varied and as substantial as John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Albert Camus’ The Plague, not to mention even more basic sacred texts from a number of cultures. This film works like the best kind of fable or parable or multi-leveled narrative: after the fun and the laughs and the thrills, after the story for its own sake, families will have much of value to discuss and enact. Whether it is presently acknowledged or not, this is one of the superlative milestones of children’s media.