Directed by: Gary Winick
Premise: Live action adaptation of E.B. White’s book. Spring piglet Wilbur (voice of Dominic Scott Kay) is spared an early death by Fern (Dakota Fanning), a farmer’s daughter, only to face death again as Christmas approaches. Wilbur allies with Charlotte, a linguistically inclined spider (voice of Julia Roberts), who promises to save Wilbur’s life.
What Works: This is a very successful adaptation of White’s classic piece of children’s literature. The film is able to make the live action work, and give human voices to animals and not make it silly. Despite giving animals human traits, Charlotte’s Web has a more credible approach to animals than most animated pictures. The filmmakers take their animal subjects seriously and as a result the audience will too. The relationships between the farm animals living the barn are done quite well and the voice acting and the cinematography support this. This version of the story actually improves on the 1973 animated film (and elements of the original novel) in this film’s fuller portrayal of the relationship between Wilbur and Fern, which is one of the great strengths of the picture. The humor of Charlotte’s Web works for both the adults and the children, especially in the crows voiced by Thomas Haden Church and Andre Benjamin. Although there are the requisite flatulence jokes, there is a lot of other humor that is sharp and dry. The enduring strength of the novel has always been in its presentation of the inevitability of death, facing death, and coming out with a new appreciation for life. These themes have been successfully preserved in this adaptation and the film, like the novel, is able to present audiences (particularly children) with an intelligent and heartfelt appeal for mutual respect.
What Doesn’t: The film retains a narrative voice (Sam Shephard) which is largely needless. It does function as a transition between scenes, but the film would have worked just as well without it.
Bottom Line: Charlotte’s Web is a successful adaptation and a successful film in its own right. The picture preserves all of the right elements of the novel while expanding on others, while maintaining the integrity of the story. This film will satisfy children, adults, and fans of the novel.
Episode: #123 (December 24, 2006)