Movie Reviews

Charlotte's Web

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Rating: 6 out of 10
Movie Details: View here

Cast:
Julia Roberts as Charlotte A. Cavatica (voice)
Dakota Fanning as Fern
Steve Buscemi as Templeton (voice)
Dominic Scott Kay as Wilbur (voice)
John Cleese as Samuel (voice)
Oprah Winfrey as Gussy (voice)
Cedric the Entertainer as Golly (voice)
Kathy Bates as Bitsy (voice)
Reba McEntire as Betsy (voice)
André Benjamin as Elwyn (voice)
Thomas Haden Church as Brooks (voice)
Robert Redford as Ike (voice)
Kevin Anderson as Mr. Arable
Essie Davis as Mrs. Arable
Gary Basaraba as Homer Zuckerman

Summary:
"Charlotte's Web" has some problems with its cast and predictability, but it's a fun movie for adult fans of the book and their families. The visual effects for Charlotte are also quite impressive.

Story:
"Charlotte's Web" is based on the beloved children's book by E.B. White.

On a farm in rural Maine, Wilbur is a pig that's born as the runt of the litter. He is raised as a pet by a young girl named Fern. But as the pampered pig grows too big to take care of, Fern reluctantly takes Wilbur to live at her uncle's farm. There, Wilbur meets a variety of other barnyard animals that have no interest in him, most notably Templeton the Rat. Bored and friendless, Wilbur also learns that he is to be butchered before the oncoming winter.

But things turn around for Wilbur when he meets Charlotte, a friendly and intelligent spider who is despised by the other animals in the barn. The pig and the spider form an unlikely friendship. Charlotte also takes it upon herself to save her newfound friend from being turned into a Christmas ham. Thus Charlotte's miraculous plan unfolds (with a little help from Fern and Templeton).

"Charlotte's Web" is rated G.

What Worked:
If you're looking for a faithful adaptation of Charlotte's Web, this is it. My daughter recently read the book out loud to me for school and as far as I can tell, it matches the book almost perfectly. There's some tweaking on the dialogue and the addition of some mischievous crows, but otherwise it's very close to the original story.

As an adult, the most notable thing for me about the movie was the visual effects. They did a fantastic job with Charlotte… almost too good of a job. The spider was so realistic I had the compulsion to squash her with a shoe every time she appeared on the screen. But despite the realism, they added a few characteristics to humanize her like big, expressive eyes and a few strands of hair on her head. A scene where Charlotte spins her web is beautifully realized and is arguably one of the best special effects scenes of the year for its artistry and technical achievements. (Danny Elfman's score doesn't hurt, either.) Templeton the Rat is also a spectacular visual effect. The hair on his body and his motions are beautifully animated.

The cast in the film has a few standouts. Dakota Fanning, as usual, is excellent as Fern. Her acting is more genuine than many of the other performances in the movie. Steve Buscemi is also well cast as Templeton. His characters are usually rat-like anyway, so this isn't a big stretch for him. Dominic Scott Kay is also good as Wilbur, but comparisons between him and Babe are inevitable. And then there's John Cleese as Samuel the sheep. Desperate to keep his fellow sheep from simply following the flock, he's constantly chiding them. It's pretty funny.

What Didn't Work:
I've got to admit that I was a little bored with "Charlotte's Web." I guess the reason for this is because I was so familiar with the story. I grew up with the book and the cartoon, now my children are reading it. There was nothing new or exciting in it for me. And with the little talking pig, comparisons to "Babe" kept popping up in my mind. In the end, "Babe" was more entertaining, I think, because it was something new.

I think the film creators also knew "Charlotte's Web" needed some spicing up. Unfortunately, their strategy for doing that didn't work particularly well. They resorted to burp and fart jokes with the animals. I could be wrong, but I don't think the cow farted Templeton off a fence post in E.B. White's original book.

I was also disappointed by the voice cast. I'm a fan of all of the actors in the film, but with the exception of Steve Buscemi as Templeton and John Cleese as Samuel, the actors didn't bring anything unique to their characters. Oprah Winfrey as Gussy sounds like she's reading a book to a group of children and her dialogue doesn't seem natural. The same goes for Julia Roberts as Charlotte. Her line reading seemed a bit flat and I think any actress could have played the role equally well.

The Bottom Line:
I think any adult that read "Charlotte's Web" as a child will want to check out this movie, especially with their children. It's a neat experience to see the book played out on the screen. It's a good movie for the whole family to see together this holiday.

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