Charlotte's Web

Live-action ‘Charlotte's Web' tugs at the heartstrings

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 15, 2006 

At the risk of damning with faint praise, one of the best things to say about "Charlotte's Web" is that they didn't screw it up.

Yes, it's cute, silly and oh-so-sweet, but that's part and parcel of any kid flick. As we take our seats for this live-action adaptation of E.B. White's classic tale, the big question is whether the filmmakers have allowed modern-day technological glitz to overpower the author's simple story and heartfelt message about the power of friendship.

We're thrilled to say that the answer is "no." Granted, thanks to the magic of computer-generated imagery, the animals talk and mimic human behavior, but they do so in moderation as a natural extension of White's imaginative premise. This is one case where the special effects do what they are supposed to do: enhance the movie instead of taking it over.

For the four people who have not read the book or seen an earlier movie version (the best-known is a 1973 animation featuring the voice of Debbie Reynolds), the title character is a helpful barn spider who has a knack for marketing. She befriends a runt pig, Wilbur, and sets out to save him from the slaughterhouse by spinning promotional webs that say things such as "Some pig." This effort is met with much glee by a young girl, Fern, who sees Wilbur as a pet rather than a potential meal.

Dakota Fanning is the youngster who falls in love with the pig this time. The voices behind the critters also are familiar, with a soft-spoken Julia Roberts leading the way as Charlotte.

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