Charlotte's Web

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Charlotte's Web
Review (9/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

When the reclusive Robert Redford agrees to provide voicework to a children's film, you have to know that the subject of the film is going to be pretty exceptional.

In this case, that exceptional work is E.B. White's classic children's novel, Charlotte's Web, which has been adapted to the silver screen. It is a daunting task to respectfully translate the best-selling paperback children's novel of all time from the page to the screen, but director Gary Winick has managed to do just that - and in the process has created the best children's film of 2006.

Charlotte's Web tells the story of Fern Arable, a precocious young girl growing up on a farm in the 1950's in rural America. When Fern discovers her father as he is about to slaughter the runt of their pig's litter, she adopts the castaway, names him Wilbur and raises him as a pet. Inevitably, Wilbur becomes too big to live in their home, and he is sent to live in the Zuckerman's barn, where he meets a hilarious cast of farm animals and a spider named Charlotte. Wilbur and Charlotte forge a friendship, and when Charlotte promises to save her friend from the inevitable fate awaiting him as a spring pig, her efforts change the lives of every creature around them, both animal and human. It is a beautiful story about love, friendship and the cycle of life.

In addition to Robert Redford, this film features voicework by several other famous faces. Julia Roberts provides the voice of Charlotte. She is complemented by barnyard friends Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer, Reba McEntire, Kathy Bates, John Cleese, Steve Buscemi, Thomas Haden Church and Andre Benjamin. Church and Benjamin are particularly hilarious as a pair of crows who find themselves constantly foiled by the scarecrow in their cornfield. The always adorable Dakota Fanning stars as Fern.

Charlotte's Web is a live action/animated film, such that live characters such as Fanning appear together with animated characters such as Wilbur the pig. It is a testament to the progress of computer-generated animation that I actually found myself wondering at points during the film if they had managed to train a live pig to move its lips so that it looked like it was talking. The animation is so seamless that it is virtually impossible to tell what is real and what is not.

Another interesting fact about this film is its score by veteran musician Danny Elfman. Elfman is often referred to as "Hollywood's hottest film composer", and is considered to be the John Williams of his generation. He has written scores for some of the biggest films in recent memory, from Spider-Man, to Batman, to The Lord of the Rings. When approached to compose the score for Charlotte's Web, Danny Elfman dropped out of writing the score for Spider-Man 3 in order to make himself available for the film. It is obvious from the emotion of the film's musical score that the story had some special significance for him.

Charlotte's Web is a beautiful, moving film that is an excellent choice for a family evening at the theatre. Its timeless story and its simple, innocent themes are a perfect way to continue to experience the holiday spirit well into 2007.

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