When the sow on the Zuckerman farm gives birth to 11 piglets, young Fern (Dakota Fanning) saves the runt of the litter from certain death, and forms a bond with the piglet, whom she calls Wilbur (voice of Dominic Scott Kay). As Wilbur moves into the big barn, he forms a second profound friendship, this with the spider Charlotte (voice of Julia Roberts), who also sees something special in the humble piggy. But Wilbur is the last to learn of the fate of spring pigs - somehow connected to the smokehouse up the hill. A determined Charlotte spins words into her web in an effort to convince farmer Zuckerman (Gary Basaraba) that Wilbur is 'some pig' and worth saving.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's cute, funny and the animals are gorgeous, but I can't help wishing that the filmmakers of Charlotte's Web had not opted to make this new adaptation a live action film. I suppose part of my reservation is that a film about talking pigs (especially little ones) begs for a comparison of sorts with Babe, which set the benchmark. Though an animated adaptation of E.B. White's classic tale (with the voices of Debbie Reynolds and Paul Lynde) was released in 1973, I nevertheless believe that classic animation may have been more appropriate, offering audiences the option of allowing their imagination to fill the gaps. Technology brings us the talking animals in this charming tale, but it is the unlikely friendship between a pig and a spider that captures our heart.
When Dakota Fanning's worldly 12 year old Fern rescues the little runt of the pig's litter, Wilbur becomes her pet. She feeds him with a baby bottle, wheels him in a doll pram and reads stories to him. But once Wilbur is sent to live in the barn opposite, where his companions are 2 horses, 2 cows, 5 sheep, 2 geese, 2 crows and a crabby rat, he is no longer the centre of attention. It is at night that Charlotte the spider makes herself known and promises her friendship. We quickly warm to the innocent piglet that doesn't realise 'the smokehouse hotel' nearby might soon be making bacon out of him. Charlotte's kindness as she dances her rituals and spins her webs to make the farmer think Wilbur is special, does more than that. It makes all the barnyard animals accept Wilbur. But friendship is a two way street, as all the animals discover.
It's a top voice cast - Julia Roberts' distinctive voice as the compassionate spider, Steve Buscemi as the anti social horder rat, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Redford , John Cleese - and nine year old Dominic Scott Kay as the voice of Wilbur. The film is witty and warm and genuinely good hearted with its messages about the circle of life and the value of friendship. It looks great too, especially the golden autumnal colours as the seasons change. Needless to say, the animals are the stars, and one can only marvel at all their performances. It is hard to conceive that there were 40 pigs who shared the role of Wilbur, but audiences will be reassured to hear that there was CGI intervention in the scene where the little pig smacks his snout into the fence at high speed. Youngsters will undoubtedly squeal with laughter as the animals chat and jive.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
How much more whimsical and wonderful this adaptation might have been had it been made in simple hand drawn animation, giving motion and sound to the story, but not so much live action detail. All the joys of the book come from the workings of our imagination, and somehow the talking animals and their human personas battle with the fantasy and fairy tale elements. That's just me, perhaps, and maybe 6 - 8 year olds will not be so critical or analytical.
Certainly the film's technical achievements are many and splendid, a seamless magic trick that makes us believe animals can talk, think - and feel. Even joke. But the twee voice of Wilbur's Dominic Scott Kay and the saccharine Julie Roberts as Charlotte helped put me 'out of the picture' as Hollywood execs would put it. Too much Hollywood, in fact, and not enough reality. Likewise all the banter between the barnyard animals, which loses its wit and seems like smart-aleck writing.
Nevertheless, the film has merit and many will enjoy its gentle, positive mood and its beautiful bucolic locations (all Australian). But to understand the popularity of E.B. White's book, I think it's best to read it.
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LARRY MADRID INTERVIEW
CHARLOTTE'S WEB (G)
CAST: Dakota Fanning, Louis Corbett, Essie Davis, Beau Bridges, Elle Fanning
VOICES: Dominic Scott Kay, Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Buscemi, Kathy Bates, John Cleese, Jennifer Garner, Robert Redford
NARRATION: Sam Shepard
PRODUCER: Jordan Kerner
DIRECTOR: Gary Winick
SCRIPT: Susannah Grant, Karey Kirkpatrick (book by E.B. White)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Seamus McGarvey
EDITOR: Susan Littenberg, Sabrina Plisco
MUSIC: Danny Elfman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stuart Wurtzel
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 7, 2006