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Movies Review

Charlotte's Web

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Charlotte's Web
Director: Gary Winick
Screenwriter: Susannah Grant, Karey Kirkpatrick
Starring: Dominic Scott Kay, Dakota Fanning, Steve Buscemi, Julia Roberts,
Running time: 98 minutes
Certificate:U

When Wilbur the pig is brought into the world he is saved from an untimely death by Fern (Fanning), whose father tries to take an axe to him, being the runt of the litter. However, it's not long before Fern has to relinquish her guardianship of her pet to the farm just across the road, where he learns that, come winter, his fate won't be much better.

Luckily for Wilbur he's not alone in his barn, sharing it with a variety of creatures, the most useful of whom is Charlotte the spider, ostracised by her housemates because of her looks. When the pair strike up a friendship, she resolves to save his bacon. By weaving some carefully-chosen words into her webs she endeavours to convince the farmer and townsfolk that Wilbur is "some pig" who isn't to be slaughtered.

E.B. White's Charlotte's Web, the bestselling children's paperback, was previously rendered into an animated film in 1973. Now, Walden Media have taken a shot in the style of that other pig-in-mortal-danger film Babe, and delivering a movie almost as charming.

The book's theme of mortality and the cycle of life is present in full force but to the filmmakers' credit, it never falls into the trap of overplaying the sentimental element. Instead, they let the story speak for itself, giving us the opportunity to feel touched but avoiding sickliness. The mix of emotion and humour will go down with those who have fond memories of the book, though the humour is something of a mixed bag. There are a good few laughs in there, though there are also some low points, such as the inclusion of a few fart jokes which, though perhaps common enough in a farmyard, just don't fit with the rest of the film. Some of the other jokes are also likely to provoke a smattering of groans, but they provide a good balance to the more serious side.

Dakota Fanning is wonderfully effective at getting us to care about the situation, while the voice casting is imaginative all round, Julia Roberts bringing grace to the outcast spider. Also among those lending their voices are Steve Buscemi (a straight-talking rat), John Cleese (a single-minded sheep), Robert Redford (an arachnophobic horse) and Oprah Winfrey as a goose. The performances behind these characters can't be criticised, though at times it's hard not to feel that some of them are there to make up the numbers. While they take up a sizable chunk of screentime, they're certainly less enjoyable than the Wilbur/Charlotte relationship and do little to further the plot.

While perhaps not surpassing the charm of Babe, Walden's interpretation of Charlotte's Web is one of the most pleasant family movies in a while with a good mix of humour and emotion, though it's a little more successful in the latter.

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