Charlotte’s Web
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Gary Winick
scr Susannah Grant, Karey Kirkpatrick
with Dakota Fanning, Kevin Anderson, Essie Davis, Beau Bridges
voices Julia Roberts, Dominic Scott Kay, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer, Robert Redford, Kathy Bates, Reba McEntire, Thomas Haden Church, André Benjamin, Sam Shepard
release US 15.Dec.06, UK 9.Feb.07
06/US Paramount 1h37

A girl and her pig: Fanning with Wilbur

roberts buscemi cleese

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Charlotte's Web Sticking faithfully to EB White's classic tale, while infusing it with present-day movie wit, this disarmingly enjoyable story is both gorgeously well-filmed and deeply thoughtful.

When Fern (Fanning) rescues the runt of a litter of pigs, she takes seriously her vow to take care of him, reluctantly allowing him to live in a neighbour's barn. Soon Wilbur (voiced by Kay) is befriended by the know-it-all sheep (Cleese), nosey geese (Winfrey and Cedric), jittery horse (Redford) and farting cows (Bates and McEntire). And he finds a special friend in the spider Charlotte (Roberts), who puts her skills to use to try to save Wilbur from becoming Christmas dinner. Persuading the marauding rat Templeton (Buscemi) to help is a little more difficult.

Yes, the entire film feels rather a lot like Babe, and it even looks and sounds similar, with a cute, pink piglet who speaks with a squawky voice. But the story comes from a very different place--provocative and meaningful, with the ability to get under our skin due to the vivid characters, loaded situations and a willingness to tell the hard truths about life, even in a children's movie.

The most telling thing about this story is that the three protagonists are the most reviled animals we have--a pig, a rat and a spider. And the film's simple central message about the power of friendship over outside pressures has an important resonance for kids and grown-ups alike. The film may take too many goofy sideroads (such as Templeton's constant antics or the hilariously scared crows voiced by Church and Benjamin), but it's essentially a truly character-based story that works because the cast is so good.

And the writers and director also get the balance right, never tipping over into either sentiment or preachiness and daring to touch on darker themes without exploiting them. Technically, it's a real marvel--stunningly well-shot and edited, with eerily seamless effects and a terrific Danny Elfman score. Cynics might find the film far too heartwarming and sweet, but even they will have to admit that words like "terrific" and "radiant" are thoroughly appropriate.

cert u themes, some violence 11.Dec.06

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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall