Charlotte's Web

A-listers Crammed into Cute Story

Like last year’s Chronicles of Narnia, Charlotte’s Web is one of those stories that every kid (and as a result every adult) knows by heart. Most of us probably remember the musical 1973 animated version of Wilbur the pig and his caretaker spider Charlotte who determines to save his life. This new live action version uses state-of-the-art effects, has (thankfully) dropped the musical numbers, and casts all-star voice talent. It’s a decent movie, but not one that bears repeat viewing.

Farm girl Fern (Dakota Fanning) saves runt-of-the-litter pig Wilbur (voiced by Dominic Scott Kay) from her father’s axe. When he gets too big to manage at home, Fern moves Wilbur across the road to her uncle’s barn where he meets a whole group of new animals. His best friend is the spider Charlotte (voiced by Julia Roberts), who comes up with a plan to save Wilbur from his eventual destiny--the smokehouse.

Charlotte’s Web does an excellent job in combining live action, puppetry, and CGI work to form the seamless effect of animals that talk (much like 1995’s Babe only better). Charlotte is pure CGI, and she looks great. The animation is so crisp that she even gets closeups, so you can see the color of her eyes (brown), all in striking detail. Very well done.

It must have been easy to get a large budget for this movie (and thus excellent effects) considering all of the famous names that play the various critters in Wilbur’s barn. You get Robert Redford (Ike the horse), Oprah Winfrey (Gussy the Goose), Reba McIntyre (Betsy the cow), John Cleese (Samuel the sheep), and on and on. It’s a pretty impressive list, even if you do find all the familiar voices distracting from the story.

It’s a cute (and mildly touching) tale, and unless you grew up on a farm with little sympathy for livestock, you’ll identify with adorable Wilbur and his desire to live. There are nice themes of acceptance, friendship, and sacrifice that help propel the story and give it meaning. Comic relief comes in the form of Steve Buscemi’s rat Templeton who has all the best lines (“Bring on the filth!”), and two crows who keep trying to outlast that skinny guy in the cornfield who never leaves.

So what we have here is a perfectly fine children’s movie, that adults will probably like, but just barely. While it has it’s moments, Charlotte’s Web doesn’t quite break out of the demographic shell to appeal to everyone. That’ll do pig...