No, it isn't as magically enchanting as the 1952 children's classic by E.B. White, any more than a museum-shop print of La Giaconda is as mysteriously beguiling as Leonardo's original. But this respectful, live-action adaptation of White's gentle tale about an undersized pig, a clever spider and the everyday marvels that too often pass unnoticed is a charmer nonetheless. When 11 piglets are born in the Arable family's barn, the runt of the litter appears doomed: Mama pig can only feed 10, and farms are no place for sentimental anthropomorphizing. But 12-year-old Fern (Dakota Fanning) intervenes, dubbing the piglet "Wilbur" and promising her father (Kevin Anderson) that she'll bottle-feed the scrawny thing until he's old enough to fend for himself. Fern's dad is getting out of the livestock business, so the growing Wilbur winds up with Fern's uncle, Homer Zuckerman (Gary Basaraba), whose farm is directly across the road. Cosseted Wilbur (Dominic Scott Kay) finds his new home a lonely place, since the other animals — pessimistic cows Bitsy and Betsy (Kathy Bates, Reba McEntire), Ike the horse (Robert Redford), geese Gussy and Golly (Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer), Samuel the sheep (John Cleese) and greedy, self-centered rat Templeton (Steve Buscemi) — share the pragmatic view that there's no point getting friendly with smokehouse-bound piggies. Only Charlotte (Julia Roberts), a large and literate spider ensconced in a corner of the barn's doorframe, succumbs to Wilbur's sweet nature and guileless cheer. And she concocts a plan to rescue Wilbur from honey-glazed doom, weaving laudatory words and phrases into her web and turning an otherwise undistinguished pig into a local phenomenon. The marvel of Charlotte's Web is its balance between childlike whimsy and clear-eyed acceptance of life's less tender realities: Ham doesn't grow in delis, geese brood eggs that never hatch, and spiders don't live long. Director Gary Winick doesn't downplay the tough stuff — a matter-of-fact cut from Wilbur's first reprieve to a pan full of frying breakfast bacon connects adorable pink piglets and yummy pork products with admirable clarity. Meanwhile, screenwriters Susannah Grant and Karey Kirkpatrick refrain from adding too much of the vulgar humor that characterizes so many modern children's movies. There are, to be sure, two fart jokes.... But cows are notoriously flatulent. Comparisons to BABE (1995) are inevitable, but Charlotte's Web is the theme, Dick King-Smith's The Sheep-Pig, BABE's source, is the variation, and there's plenty of room for both.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: G
- Review: No, it isn't as magically enchanting as the 1952 children's classic by E.B. White, any more than a museum-shop print of La Giaconda is as mysteriously beguiling as Leonardo's original. But this respectful, live-action adaptation of White's gentle tale abou… (more)
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