Aug 17, 2007

Review: Charlotte's Web

In lieu of having any romantic movies available to watch Thursday night (currently pining for a re-viewing of The Painted Veil as I’m reading the book right now), I pulled Charlotte’s Web off my bookshelf knowing full well that it wasn’t going to be a nice way to ease into day’s end.

The movie is based on E.B. White’s story about a runt pig named Wilbur who is saved from the axe at birth by the farmer’s daughter Fern. But even the adoration of a little girl with a heart of gold may not be able to save Wilbur from his fate as he eventually discovers that it’s not exactly the best thing to be known as the Spring pig.

Wilbur attempts to make friends with the other barnyard animals, but his gestures towards friendship aren’t successful because the animals aren’t interested in forming a lasting friendship with a pig who is destined for the smokehouse.

Eventually Wilbur is befriended by a kindly spider known as Charlotte A. Cavatica who herself is shunned by the other barnyard inhabitants due to her displeasing appearance and well-tuned method of capturing daily meals. When Templeton the Rat gleefully tells Wilbur that his fate as a Spring pig is to become the main course for Christmas dinner, Charlotte make a fateful promise to help save the life of her friend Wilbur the pig.

I never do well with watching movies involving animals dying nor can I handle the concept of adorable creatures being slaughtered for food. However, I make no pretense of the indisputable fact that I can eat a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with cheese without hesitation and nor feel the slightest bit of guilt while doing so because I never have to witness how the delicious beef patties ended up between the sesame seed buns.

The CGI effects in Charlotte’s Web were subtle yet stunning. Their effects made me pause to marvel at just how adorable a young piglet could be. It’s easy to see why Fern saved Wilbur from the chopping block and granted him a spot on her pillow every night until her parent’s protests eventually landed this pet pig a spot across the street to live at Fern's uncle’s farm. Wilbur’s flat nostril nose and button eyes were the central point of his cuteness and the animators did a fine job manipulating his fuzzy, floppy ears to express a palette of emotions.

An enjoyable feature of Charlotte’s Web were the barnyard animals voiced by an all-star cast including Oprah Winfrey, Robert Redford, Julia Roberts, John Cleese, Kathy Bates, etc. Their performances were entertaining and really brought out the nuances of each character.

Highlights included Templeton the Rat (voiced by Steve Buscemi). He was a study in selfishness and hearty gluttony. He seemed to delight in disappointing others while looking out for himself (and his fine stomach), but by the end of the story became a worthy member of the barn.

Julia Roberts was the perfect choice to voice Charlotte the spider in that her manner was soothing, calm and even-tempered as Wilbur’s mounting anxiety over becoming Christmas dinner became evident. Her final good-bye to Wilbur at the State Fair will definitely tug at your heartstrings and bring on the waterworks.

My personal favorite was Thomas Haden Church and Andre Benjamin who lent their voices to the pair of tortured black crows Brooks and Elwyn. Each brought their own style to their respective crow: Church as the blustery, frustrated crow Brooks who only wants CORN, but is terrified to fly into the cornfields because of a lonesome scarecrow and Benjamin as the sly Southern Elwyn whose vanity is tainted when Templeton the Rat manages to douse them both in blue paint during a hectic chase through the local dump. I loved these characters the best and I wish the movie featured more of their talents.

I found myself crying with great heaving sobs by movie’s end which wasn’t unexpected, but the journey was worth the tissues. This movie was an honorable adaptation to E.B. White’s story.

Even though I don’t have any little ones, I’d recommend this movie as an opportunity to gently introduce your child to the concept of death and the circle of life.

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