Charlotte's Web ***
For the first time in quite some time, I can say that I saw a decent and well made family film that was mass released. I say mass released for the fact that "Opal Dream" was released a few weeks ago, but only in about four screens throughout the United States. "Charlotte's Web" is getting the over 3500 screen treatment across the United States, and hopefully it'll be a success, because it has reaffirmed my faith in live action family films-at least compared to the other selections. "Charlotte's Web" is based on the classic book by E.B. White, which I can't reading it or not. I kind of have the feeling that I must've, and if I haven't I maybe started it, or carried it around with the intention of reading it. If I did read it I had forgotten what a sweet and tearful story it was-both depressing and life affirming at the same time.
"Charlotte's Web" begins with little girl Fern waking up in the middle of the night to find out that the pig in the barn has given birth to a little of pigs. Her farmer father finds the runt of the litter-the one that will never get the proper amount of milk from the mother-and decides to kill it. Fern stops the death in the nick of time, and asks her father if she could raise the pig herself. Her father is hesitant, but in the end agrees to it. Fern becomes obsessed with the pig, feeding it milk from a bottle, and even hiding it in her desk at school. She names it Wilbur, and unfortunately for her, Wilbur is growing up quickly. Eventually the pig gets too big, and her father suggests that they bring the pig to his brothers house up the road, where he raises animals. Fern agrees, and Wilbur prepares for his new life on the farm. Fern does visit every day, and Wilbur tries to make friends with the various inhabitants in the barn. There is Samuel the Sheep, who sounds a lot like John Cleese, a horse named Ike that has the voice of Robert Redford, and most of all a rat named Templeton, who sounds(and even looks) a little bit like Steve Buscemi. None of them are really interested in doing what Wilbur wants to do-like play in the mud-but they are interested when they come to the conclusion that at the start of the winter the farmers will smoke Wilbur and eat him up for Christmas. Wilbur is lucky, though, when he befriends the spider in the barn, Charlotte, who makes a promise to him that he will make it to next spring unharmed. She comes up with a plan to ensure that her friends isn't chopped up and eaten.
I found myself very interested in "Charlotte's Web" from the very beginning. I even laughed out loud at a few portions-most notably the two crows voiced by Andre Benjamin and Thomas Hayden Church who want to steal corn from the fields, but are too scared because of a "scary guy" that is standing in them. To us this is a scarecrow. Steve Buscemi as Templeton the Rat was terrific as well, with so much attention to hair and facial reactions that I even squirmed in a my seat a little bit. Danny Elfman provides a great score as usual, and a scene where Charlotte weaves something in her web is made extra beautiful because of it. It is somewhat flawed, but on the whole it's the perfect family film for the season. I really have to say that if you do not like this film there is something missing in your heart. There isn't a reason not to get enjoyment out of this. Go find the inner child inside of you, and bring him/her to this.
The voice cast is probably the most odd thing about this film, but the little kids won't even notice. Steve Buscemi and Thomas Hayden Church I already said were great, but Robert Redford and Oprah Winfrey seemed a bit unneeded. As if their names would really change a profit for the movie. Folks like John Cleese are not doing anything they don't normally do, and even as much as I love him he seemed wasted here. And then there's Dakota Fanning, who is live action as Fern. I must say I'm getting a bit tired of her, as well as the fact that whenever there is a film that needs the casting of a little girl around ten she is always somehow in the running. After "I Am Sam" I just can't see why people demand her to be around so much. There are many more talented young girl actresses out there besides Fanning, and I must admit they are usually better. A second thing that made the film suffer were the unnecessary flatulence jokes. I'll admit when its done right, flatulence is extremely funny, but here it just wasn't needed, and it did somewhat detract from the sweet and innocent, and even sometimes magical, moods that this created. I saw it as a move by the studio to try and get some cheap laughs, but cheap laughs are not what this story needs.
For a great time at the movies for the young and old alike, "Charlotte's Web" is your best bet for the holidays. I was moved by this delightful family film, and when the credits rolled I couldn't help but smile.