Charlotte's Web
Paramount // PG // December 15, 2006
Review by Brian Orndorf | posted December 15, 2006
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"Charlotte's Web" isn't just a classic children's book, it's an institution; the top gun of tear-jerking elementary school staples that has never left the rotation of scholastic importance since its debut in 1952. Why is that? Because E.B. White's tender tale of friendship and mortality was respectful and imaginative. The new movie's take on "Charlotte's Web?" Fart jokes and Cedric the Entertainer.

Saved from certain doom by pre-teen Fern (Dakota Fanning), pig Wilbur (voiced by Dominic Scott Kay) is moved to a barn to fatten up for the holiday feast. There he meets his fellow farm animals and a friendly spider named Charlotte (Julia Roberts). Charlotte can't bear to see the pig meet his destiny, so she concocts a series of spider web messages to wow the humans into thinking Wilbur is a magical pig. When the plan works, Wilbur and Charlotte's bond is formed, only to be tested by the demands of time.

I'll admit that this new take on "Web" does stay true to White's plotting, and that of the 1973 animated spin. However, simply keeping in time with plot and overall authenticity are two very different ideas, and I fail to see the need for the production to hip up "Web" for the nano-second attention spans of today's kid audience. I mean, seriously, does the world need a "Charlotte's Web" with belching and flatulence gags? The book managed to crawl its way to timeless status without the need to pander, so why isn't that bravery respected?

It would make me sick to know that this picture is some impressionable child's first introduction to the world of "Web," only to refuse the book afterwards because nobody cuts the cheese in the literary incarnation.

Director Gary Winick, whose previous film, "13 Going on 30," was a real charmer, seems on auto-pilot here. Moments of emotion fall onto the frame with assembly line smoothness, carefully building the film's final act of tragedy and hope. Perhaps the voice cast sparkles too much (including Robert Redford, Oprah Winfrey, Andre Benjamin, Thomas Hayden Church, John Cleese, and a lively Steve Buscemi as rat Templeton), leaving little room for Wilbur to find center stage. Possibly Roberts's motherly, but monotone reading of Charlotte clogs the giving, loving glow of the charitable spider. Or maybe this film is more interested in becoming "Babe III" than trying to focus on the important elements of the story. The bottom line is that this cinematic "Web" leaves the viewer cold when the book effortlessly burrowed deep into the soul.

The 1973 film, with all its period trappings and questionable animation, seemed to sweetly comprehend what made White's prose tick. I'm having great trouble understanding why the 2006 live-action adaptation doesn't register more profoundly.

Oh wait, it's the farting. It's always the farting.



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