Friday, March 14, 2014

Charlotte's Web Review

The E. B. White children's classic, Charlotte's Web, seems to be such an icon that it never occurred to me that there have only been two versions of the movie to date. There was an animated feature from Hanna-Barbera in 1973 and more recently a live-action one in 2006 from Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies. I was raised on the old animated version, but I still think this newer one is pretty good.
Fern Arabel (Dakota Fanning) is a young girl growing up on her family's farm. When a sow gives birth to some piglets, Fern's father (Kevin Anderson) intends to do away with the runt of the litter,  but Fern persuades her father to let him live. The pig, named Wilbur (Dominic Scott Kay), becomes Fern's pet, but when he grows larger, he's put in the care of homer Zuckerman (Gary Basaraba), a farmer down the road. Fern is still able to visit Wilbur regularly, and it soon occurs to both of them that pigs tend to have a limited life expectancy on a farm, and that unless something unusual happens, Wilbur will eventually become Christmas dinner. Charlotte (Julia Roberts), a friendly spider who lives in the barn, hatches a plan to make Wilbur seem special enough to save by weaving messages about the "terrific" pig into her web, and she soon persuades her barnyard friend to join in her plan. Time files and the end of the season approaches and everyone wonders if Charlotte's messages be enough to save Wilbur.
Charlotte's Web was a very cute movie. It was a competent retelling of the classic children's book that will easily endear it's audience. It's got a timeless feel to it, similar to that of The Odd Life of Timothy Green. The book was originally printed in the early 1950's, but this movie doesn't specifically take place in that time period. It could very easily have taken place at any time; the clothing and sets looked typical of an idyllic Norman Rockwell style country setting. There are no TV's or cell phones, but they probably wouldn't have looked terribly out of place. This gives a timeless feel that people of any age could relate to.
Each of the two Charlotte's Web movies have their own thing to appeal to kids. Apparently, it was assumed that to please kids in the 70's there had to be lots of musical numbers because kids like songs. In 2006 it was assumed that to please kids there had to be a bunch of fart jokes because kids like fart jokes. I can understand wanting to appeal to the target kid audience, but the fart jokes got pretty annoying after a while. This version of Charlotte's Web didn't have musical numbers, but we did spend a lot of time watching Templeton the rat doing gross rat things. They spent a lot of time on the rotten egg scene, I thought. It's interesting to see how movie studios have changed their tactics in kid movies, but I'm not sure that moving to fart jokes from musical numbers is necessarily a flattering development.
Charlotte is given a friendlier face than
that of a real spider.
There are a lot of stars that make up the animal voice work. It includes Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer, Kathy Bates, Reba McEntire, Robert Redford, Thomas Haden Church, and André Benrubi. It's a fantastic cast that pulled together and made a pretty darn good movie.
I watched Charlotte's Web a good eight years after its original release. CGI effects haven't made particularly huge leaps and bounds in that time, but the computer animation still looks pretty good today. Charlotte's size doesn't always seem to stay consistent from scene to scene. Charlotte has the hairy texture of a spider, but is given a bit of a cartoonish appearance, probably to keep arachnophobia audiences from losing it during the movie, or at least to keep from making new arachnophobes out of the young audience.
Charlotte's Web simply has too much talent and too strong a story to truly mess it up. There was some potential to do more with the story, but this incarnation is respectable and a good update to the classic story for a new generation of kids. It's got everything a good clean family film needs; humor, drama, some sadness, and an emotionally satisfying ending. I liked this version of Charlotte's Web even with the excess of fart jokes. If you've got kids at home, this is something you may consider getting a copy of. Even though I enjoy kid movies from time to time, I didn't really enjoy this one enough to get a copy myself. My opinion might be clouded by nostalgia, but I think the animated version was just a little bit better.

Surely you've seen at least one version of Charlotte's Web. Which one do you prefer? Comment below and tell me why!

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