Charlotte's Web (U)



Family (2006)
97mins US

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Buscemi
Director: Gary Winick
Writer(s): Susannah Grant, Karey Kirkpatrick
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

A bashful pig called Wilbur realises that he will soon end up on the butcher's block. Seeking help from a clever spider called Charlotte and a kind farm girl called Fern, the porker tries to avoid the chop. Aided by his animal chums in the barn, Wilbur proves to the local community that he is indeed a very 'humble' pig.

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Charlotte's Web

A whole new generation of vegetarians will be born this month with the release of a charming new version of E.B. White's magical children's story...

Dakota Fanning in Charlotte's Web. photography by: Lisa Tomasetti. Copyright  2005 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.Remaining faithful to the book, Gary Winick's film is that rare beast: a well-crafted family film that appeals to all ages, and might even have a few parents sniffling over their popcorn.

Charlotte's Web seamlessly melds live action and computer animated trickery to bring the animals to life a la Babe and Racing Stripes. The technical wizardry never gets in the way of the emotions of the story - the touching friendship between a spider and a pig. When the eponymous arachnid, who is initially shunned by the other animals, tells her porcine pal, "You made me your friend and in doing so, you made a spider beautiful to everyone in that barn," we try to swallow that large lump in our throat.

Tears are almost unavoidable though, as Winick and screenwriters Susannah Grant and Karey Kirkpatrick shepherd the relationship to its sad yet logical conclusion, reminding us all that nothing last forever: "It's the natural cycle of life."

The story begins with a little girl, Fern Arable (Dakota Fanning), who is horrified when she discovers her father (Kevin Anderson) is about to kill the runt of a newborn litter. "If I was born small, would you kill me?" she argues. "Of course not," replies her father.

Charlotte's Web. Copyright  2006 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.So Fern rescues the little pig, christening the cheeky porker Wilbur (voiced by Dominic Scott Kay), and vows to take care of the animal herself. Fern leaves her new pet in the barn, home to the farm's other livestock including Ike the horse (Robert Redford), Samuel the sheep (John Cleese), and Gussy and Golly the geese (Oprah Winfrey, Cedric The Entertainer).

Life seems idyllic for Wilbur until Templeton the rat (Steve Buscemi) cruelly lets slip that Wilbur will end up on the butcher's block. Seeking help from a clever spider called Charlotte (Julia Roberts), who has a magical way with words, the porker tries to avoid the chop and prove to the local community that he is indeed a very 'humble' and extraordinary pig.

Charlotte's Web is a real treat: smartly written yet not overly saccharine, Winick's film gently tugs the heartstrings, encouraging us to fall in love with the characters. The screenplay is littered with gentle humour, like Samuel telling his flock, "How many time have I told you, even though we're sheep, we don't have to follow?" Danny Elfman's orchestral score lingers beautifully, complemented by Sarah McLachlan's haunting song "Ordinary Miracle" that soars over the end credits.

Charlotte tells Wilbur that, "With the right words, you can change the world." With the right film, you might not be able to change the world, but you can certainly make it a more joyous place.

- Sophie Abell

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