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6 reviews, 18 user ratings

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Charlotte's Web (2006)
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by Erik Childress

"Charlotte Forever Will Be The True Babe"
5 stars

If there are things we truly block out from childhood, then there must have been something in my viewing of the animated version of the E.B. White classic that kept it regressed in my cranium for several decades. Maybe it’s the same aversion to children’s stories which confront death head-on that kept me away from what I knew was a tragedy-in-waiting in Old Yeller. I remember each viewing of E.T. down to what the weather was like those days but have only vague memories of the relationship between a talking pig and the spider who befriends him. And yet I believe that I’ve carried the messages of Charlotte’s Web on my shoulder all my life, so when viewing the new live action version everything came rushing back to me as if under a hypnosis so emotional that I was already fighting back tears upon Wilbur & Charlotte’s first meet-and-greet. Special stories like this are rare and so are the films which treat them with the respect they deserve.

The story which shouldn’t take any reminding begins when young farm girl, Fern (Dakota Fanning) sees her father (Kevin Anderson) coming to the unfortunate decision to take an axe to the runt of a new litter of pigs. With an immaculate little guilt trip, Fern stops her father and pledges to take care of little Wilbur. As he becomes a little big, even for a runt, to keep around the house (don’t tell George Clooney or Annie Wilkes), Fern houses Wilbur in her Uncle’s barn just across the street where those grunts we’ve been hearing suddenly turn to cries of “don’t go.” Wilbur (voiced by Dominic Scott Key) may be on his own, except for Fern’s regular visits, but he’s as friendly as friendly can be and he’s determined to make new friends.

Surely, in a barn filled with sheep, geese, cows, a horse and even a chatty rat, Wilbur’s good natured positivity would make him the belle of the ball. Alas, sheep leader Samuel (John Cleese) is of the snooty English variety trying to preach his brothers into not being followers just as Gossy goose (Cedric the Entertainer) hangs on his wife, Gussy’s (Oprah Winfrey) every word. Bitsy (Kathy Bates) and Betsy (Reba McIntire) mope about like the cows that they are and Ike the horse (Robert Redford) wouldn’t rather face the other way and not be bothered. Or maybe they would just rather not get attached to a new friend who is destined not to see his first snow so his owners can have some nice holiday ham; a fact that the gluttonous rat, Templeton (Steve Buscemi) can’t help but deliver with gleeful cynicism. Wilbur is distraught at the news and cannot understand why anyone would willingly want to see him dead. And neither can the spider lurking around the corners of the barn. Charlotte (Julia Roberts) is too pragmatic to need Wilbur’s compliments, but he sees her as beautiful while everyone else naturally cries out “icky EW”. And this true lady spider has a few words of her own to save Wilbur from the smokehouse.

Words play an important part in Wilbur’s story. Just as Charlotte’s singular summations conjure up something special for the townfolk to believe in, E.B. White’s eternal lessons can be just as easily concise. Friendship, promises, life, death. We teach our children the virtues of some and shelter them from the latter as much as necessary. Charlotte’s god-like presence as the all-knowing figure hanging from above is a reminder of how creation has a finality to it while the circle of life continues all around it. The miracles she creates serves its purpose for inspiration even if the beings witnessing them are fickle enough to grow weary of them until something new comes along.

These are self-evident themes in White’s book, but to make them fly without an ounce of mawkish corniness on film there has to be a delicate touch brought to both Wilbur and Charlotte to allow the humanity to shine beyond just cuteness or a viable alternative to one-track farmhands. It’s here where the voicework and the FX makers sell us. Julia Roberts’ soothing interpretation of Charlotte manages to make the actress more beautiful than ever. It’s not a whisper campaign to maintain Charlotte as the calming voice of wisdom, but something supremely touching as your mother, best friend and girl next door all rolled into one. When it comes time to see Charlotte in action; using her seemingly effortless strength to spin her web for Wilbur’s life the film takes on a majesty that no artist rendering or biblical interpretation can match. Dominic Scott Key, in turn, just has to turn on the natural voice of a cute nine year-old, but that’s perfectly suited for Wilbur’s endless enthusiasm and naivete .

None of the voicework seeps into a grandiose celebrity “hey, it’s me” face-off. Even recognizable talent like Cedric the Entertainer is kept in check to deliver his one-liners free of pop culture hysteria. I didn’t even recognize Redford’s work as the horse and in retrospect, found it even funnier (including the best horse gag since Animal House) and thankfully free of any reference to whispering. Thomas Haden Church’s turn as one of the famished, tormenting crows will have you laughing at least the next three times you look at a piece of corn. It’s Steve Buscemi as Templeton though that is the true inspiration. At first we laugh at his familiar sounds, but mainly because he is the perfect choice to bring the conspiring rat to life much as he was for the crotchety neighbor in Monster House.

In another thirty years someone may believe its time again to craft another version of Charlotte’s Web. Maybe by then they won’t even need animation or visual FX and have obtained the means for pigs and horses to actually speak. But nothing will ever feel as real as this version does. It’s trustful of the source material and provides the rare opportunity for parents to not just begin a discussion with their children but also within themselves and their own values of faith and friendship. Charlotte’s Web may ultimately be a story about death, but I like to think of it as one of forever.

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originally posted: 12/15/06 16:14:26
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User Comments

8/15/14 Mario is the Best I love this movie! 5 stars
7/27/12 Amanda Smith Cute, but I got bored since I read the book years before. 5 stars
11/29/09 Rachel My family loves this movie. Very cute for children! 5 stars
8/19/08 Shaun Wallner Great Kids Film! 5 stars
2/18/08 Tiffany Losco Dakota fanning is so cute!! My daughter loved this movie. 5 stars
1/27/08 Pamela White wonderful adaptation its in my library 4 stars
11/21/07 G. Webster wonderful children's movie 4 stars
10/14/07 Brian Hallahan They crucified a literary gem. READ THE BOOK!! 1 stars
7/10/07 ES This was a masterfully done film 5 stars
7/03/07 William Goss Wholly winning adaptation of E.B. White's classic. 5 stars
5/03/07 David Pollastrini The pig was cute 3 stars
4/19/07 Abs A great film for kids. They'd love it. Adults, probably not so due to improbable plot 4 stars
4/12/07 the wizz So lame. a spider writes words in a web and the world craps their pants. YAWN 1 stars
1/18/07 Jeanne Masters Don't let Hollywood bean counters tell you what this story is about: READ THE BOOK! 1 stars
1/01/07 Sr. Margaret Ann, CSC I loved the book so it is not surprise that I love the film. It stayed true to the story. 5 stars
12/30/06 Michelle It brought back so many memories from my childhood, very heartwarming 5 stars
12/15/06 Richard Paquette excelent childrens movie 4 stars
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  15-Dec-2006 (G)
  DVD: 03-Apr-2007



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