Charlotte’s Web, based on the book by E.B. White, directed by Gary Winick, film story by Earl Hamner Jr. and screenplay by Susannah Grant and Karey Kirkpatrick is a heart warming story of friendship, loyalty and acceptance.
When a runt pig is born, a little girl, Fern, talks her father out of slaughtering the pig. Fern, played by Dakota Fanning, raises the pig, Wilbur, by hand until the pig is too large to stay in the house. She takes Wilbur, voice by Dominic Scott Kay, to live with her uncle. It is only after Wilbur goes to live with her uncle that Fern realizes that her pig will be slaughtered for Christmas dinner.
In the barn where Wilbur goes to live there is a collection of funny and uptight animal characters. Each character’s voice is provided by a recognizable, familiar voice. Samuel the sheep, voice by John Cleese, is the uptight leader of the sheep and occasionally provider of sage advice. Steve Buscemi provides his voice for the mischievous and self-minded Templeton the Rat. Expecting geese parents Gussy and Golly Goose, whose voices are provided by Oprah Winfrey and Cedric the Entertainer. Bitsey, Kahty Bates, and Betsy, Reba McEntire, cows, provide the physical and fart humor for the movie.
Wilbur is not so delicately informed by Templeton that he will be slaughtered. This sends Wilbur into an emotional down-spiral. Luckily for him, he makes a new friend, Charolotte the Spider, who promises to find a way to keep him from being slaughtered. Taking her promise seriously, Charlotte spins a series of webs that have the words, “Radiant” and “Some Pig” to draw attention to how special Wilbur truly is.
Julia Roberts was a wonderful cast for Charlotte. Her soft, sweet voice effectively embodies the spirit of E.B. White’s character. Charlotte’s cool head, and confident demeanor, give hope to the barn and most importantly, Wilbur. Roberts does a great job at making Charlotte a constant and level character.
Charlotte was completely animated. The computer animation wasn’t anything to sneeze at, nor was it anything to praise. There were several scenes where Charlotte looks to be the size of, or larger, that of a tarantula. There are other times when she doesn’t seem to be a daddy long legs. Still, the animators did a good job of making her feel like a character rich with emotion. I’m sure it was a challenge to make a spider both realistic and emotional.
Dakota Fanning was adorable in the movie. I was disappointed because at times her acting was inconsistent and strained. Still, there is a reason why she is one of the most desired child actors in Hollywood.
The problem with having voices done by celebrities is you spend so much of your time seeing their faces, instead of the character that it can be a little confusing. Can you imagine a movie where Julia Roberts is put in a jar by a little boy as Cedric the Entertainer and Oprah Winfrey stand by and watch? It gets even worse when you associate a voice to a character. One of the crows is played by Thomas Haden Church. Church used to play the airplane mechanic on “Wings”. During the extremely funny scenes with the crows, all I could see was the mechanic on “Wings. “ While I think you should defiantly have a recognizable voice in your film, if you do too many it’s distracting.
Even though I was distracted by the different voices occasionally, I was generally lost in the story. I was in a theater with several small children and most of them made it though the movie with out yelling, fussing or getting bored. Either they were the best behaved children ever or they were truly enjoying the movie.
I knew how the story was going to end; I started to cry when it actually happened.
I don’t think this movie is the end all be all of what Charlotte’s Web could be. I think it will do just fine until a better one comes out. Don’t be afraid to take your children, they’ll love it!