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  Publicity Stills of "Charlotte's Web"
(Courtesy from UIP)

Genre: Liv Action + CG Animation
Director: Gary Winick
Starring: Dakota Fanning
Voices of: John Cleese, Steve Buscemi, Cedric The Entertainer, Reba McEntire, Kathy Bates, Thomas Haden Church, Andre Benjamin
RunTime: 1 hr 38 mins
Released By: UIP
Rating: PG

Official Website: www.charlotteswebmovie.com

Release Date: 21 December 2006

Synopsis :

The classic story of loyalty, trust, and sacrifice comes to life in this live-action adaptation. Fern (Dakota Fanning) is one of only two living beings who sees that Wilbur is a special animal as she raises him, the runt of the litter, into a terrific and radiant pig. As Wilbur moves into a new barn, he begins a second profound friendship with the most unlikely of creatures; a spider named Charlotte and their bond inspires the animals around them to come together as a family. When the word gets out that Wilbur’s days are numbered, it seems that only a miracle will save his life. A determined Charlotte who sees miracles in the ordinary spins words into her web in an effort to convince the farmer that Wilbur is ‘some pig’ and worth saving. Also stars the voice talents of Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer, Andre Benjamin, Thomas Haden Church, Robert Redford, Reba McEntire, Kathy Bates.

Movie Review:

Yes. I admit. I cried in this live action animation version of Charlotte’s Web. But then I cried when I first read the original American children’s classic by E.B White at age eight. I remember running to my Mum and asking her endless awkward questions about life and death. “Why did the good spider have to die?” I remember asking. I came across the 1973 animated musical of Charlotte’s Web. I sang along and you guessed it, I shed tears at the end. The 2006 version would be a tough act to follow.

In this new version, directed by Gary Winick (13 going on 30) we get a rather faithful adaptation of E.B White’s book. We are transported back to 1950s Maine (courtesy of picturesque Melbourne, Australia) where the tale takes place. Born in the spring, Wilbur (Dominic Scott Kay) is the runt of the litter and plucky Fern (Dakota Fanning-more on her later) saves him from her father’s ax. When he grows too big, she is forced to sell him to her Uncle Zuckerman’s barn who is just across the road. It is here during this time that Wilbur discovers he is not special among the barn’s animal folk, and that he will not see the break of winter, as he will be soon checked into the ‘smokehouse hotel’. He forms a friendship with outcast Charlotte A. Cavatica (Julia Roberts) and she promises to save him the only way she knows how – words and webs.

The real strength of this film is in the story. Other than that, for the most part, it is actually rather bland and mediocre. Wilbur may be an extremely cute pig and the other live action animals are pretty and believable, but it just screams out for a comparison with far superior Oscar nominated Babe released 11 years ago. There is nothing truly groundbreaking or spectacular. Worse, the movie tended to drag unnecessarily in the second act. However, the CGI rendering of Charlotte and her web spinning sequences are to be commended.

Further, in typical Hollywood fashion, the animals rely heavily on the characters of its celebrity voice cast (John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer, Thomas Haden Church, Kathy Bates etc) for any semblance of characterisation. Julia Roberts is an exception to this. Her lovely vocalisation of Charlotte is truly magnificent and heartbreaking. Steve Buscemi as Templeton the Rat also deserves high praise for bringing his character to life.

And then there is overrated Dakota Fanning. She irks me as much as she irritates. She is too old to play eight-year old Fern. But here, with a character that gets marginalised and ‘disappears’ as the film progresses, she has finally found her place and ironic fate awaiting her in the real world.

And then there are the fart jokes and terribly corny jokes. Adults bringing their young are sure to groan and finally realise why the Romans invented vomitariums. These obvious attempts aim to appeal to the underaged but are rather needless with adapting classic Literature. Family comedy this is, but parents and guardians are warned (perhaps Singapore’s most sensible PG rating yet) as the death of Charlotte and emotions running near the end off this movie was too much for one four–year old member of the audience. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when that little girl cried and blurted out “Mummy, why the spider have to die [sic]?”

But what is a film essentially? It is a modern Art form that tells a great story. And if we look at Charlotte’s Web in this light, the loveable, potent and moralistic story overshadows all its flaws. It is a beautifully packaged tale about friendship, loyalty, the keeping of promises and sacrifice. Some things both young and old can relate to, and we definitely need more of. And if it can steer young and old to read this wonderful classic by E.B. White, it would have done its job.

Movie Rating:

(Bring those tissues; you will need lots of them)

Review by Darren Sim

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