Thank you, director, producer and screenwriters, for getting the point of E.B. White’s brilliant “Charlotte’s Web.”
The new movie version of the children’s classic — it’s reportedly the best-selling kids’ book of all time — beautifully tells White’s touching 1952 tale of an unlikely friendship between a humble pig and a savvy spider. Like the book, the movie also is about the miracle of everyday life (and death) and the power of the word.
When Charlotte the spider saves Wilbur the pig’s life by weaving clever descriptions of him into her web, she, like White (who co-authored the writers’ bible “The Elements of Style”), really proves how very effective words can be.
As Fern, the farm girl who saves the runt of the sow’s litter, Dakota Fanning displays her usual professionalism. Never sappy, never sassy, she’s just right.
Adult moviegoers may be amused by the star-studded, recognizable voice talent complementing the film’s combination of live action and computer generated animation. Julia Roberts exercises sweet, gentle authority as Charlotte, while young Dominic Scott Kay voices the enthusiastic little porker. Their barnyard pals include John Cleese as Samuel the sheep, Oprah Winfrey as Gussy the goose, Cedric the Entertainer as Golly the gander, Reba McIntyre and Kathy Bates as Betsy and Bitsy the cows, Robert Redford as Ike the horse and the appropriately devilish Steve Buscemi as Templeton the rat.
Happily, much of their pithy dialogue is taken directly from the book.
Among the “new” characters created specifically for the movie are crows Elwyn and Brooks (named after Elwyn Brooks White) voiced by André Benjamin and Thomas Haden Church. While it’s fun to hear the actors’ voices, their characters don’t add that much to the proceedings. (One might surmise that filmmakers thought they needed to include some slapstick chase scenes involving the crows and the rat for hyperactive kiddies who can’t handle the movie’s tranquil, easy pace or its unabashedly old-fashioned tone.)
A few unnecessary additions to the book’s basic story and a less-than-subtle soundtrack that tries to dictate audience reaction don’t detract from the movie’s broad appeal to people of all ages.
Rated “G” for genuine, “Charlotte’s Web” is the real deal. A final note: Don’t forget to bring Kleenex. When Charlotte and Wilbur meet their fate, there won’t be a dry eye in the theater.
Charlotte’s Web ***½
Starring Julia Roberts, Dakota Fanning, Dominic Scott Kay, Steve Buscemi, Oprah Winfrey
Written by Susannah Grant and Karey Kirkpatrick
Directed by Gary Winick
Running time 1 hour, 34 minutes