New to DVD today is “Charlotte’s Web,” the Dakota Fanning-starrer from 2006 based on the best-selling book by E.B. White about the friendship between a pig and a spider.
The live-action picture grossed more than $80 million at the domestic box office, and for good reason. This adaptation—featuring the voices of Julia Roberts, Robert Redford, John Cleese, Kathy Bates, Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities—is well done.
“Charlotte’s Web” begins when Fern (Fanning) saves a runty pig, arguing with her father it’s “unfair and unjust” for the pig to be killed simply because of his size. Wilbur the pig is saved, and he goes to live across the street at the Zuckerman Farm, where he meets a host of farm creatures.
Chief among them is Charlotte A. Cavatica (the voice of Julia Roberts), the resident spider who values the life of even a small pig. When Templeton the Rat (the voice of Steve Buscemi) tells Wilbur the truth about a pig’s fate, Charlotte vows to spread word of Wilbur’s value and save his life.
“Charlotte’s Web,” based on White’s best-selling book, is a tale of sacrificial love and the power of words. Its universal themes have made it a classic, and this adaptation is radiant. The live-action barn drama is engaging, Charlotte’s web effects are impressive, and the voice work—especially that by Buscemi—is notable.
There’s probably no better place than a farm in which to tell a tale involving life’s cycle. As Charlotte says, we’re born, we live and we die. But even that natural cycle, involving pigs, is no reason to excuse what the child Fern sees as an injustice: the killing of Wilbur at the story’s beginning.
Fern, like Charlotte, believes that even a spring pig can see a snow—meaning that Wilbur doesn’t have to be butchered for a Christmas feast. But those who recognize the value in another must also act to protect that value.
When Wilbur thanks Charlotte for her seemingly miraculous efforts on his behalf, she says she was merely describing what she saw: a pig that was terrific, radiant and humble.
The movie was, and is, marketed to family and religious audiences with the tagline, “Help is coming from above” (which makes literal sense when framed against the spider Charlotte dropping down from her web in the barn). The all-American, G-rated movie also has a couple of church scenes.
This movie’s a winner on every front, and Paramount has done a good job with the DVD. Available in widescreen and fullscreen formats, it comes packed with extras: director’s commentary, deleted scenes, gag reel, seven “making of” featurettes, and a couple of music videos from the movie.
One of the features gives some details about the life of E.B. White, who spent the latter part of his life in rural Maine on a farm. A lengthier feature about the author would have been even nicer, but as DVDs go, this one gets a blue ribbon.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: G
Director: Gary Winick
Writers: Susannah Grant and Karey Kirkpatrick (based on the book by E.B. White)
Cast: Fern: Dakota Fanning; Mr. Arable: Kevin Anderson; Charlotte’s voice: Julia Roberts; Templeton’s voice: Steve Buscemi; Samuel’s voice: John Cleese; Gussy’s voice: Oprah Winfrey; Golly’s voice: Cedric the Entertainer; Bitsy’s voice: Kathy Bates; Betsy’s voice: Reba McEntire; Ike’s voice: Robert Redford; Wilbur: Dominic Scott Kay; Narrator: Sam Shepard.
The movie’s official Web site is here.