Charlotte's Web (2006, Theatrical, 1 hr 26 min -- my timing, I don't count the front bumpers or the credits.)
Director: Gary Winick
Starring: Dakota Fanning and the voices of Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey and others)
Tag Line: Help Is Coming From Above
[This is the first of four blog posts on this movie. All follow in reverse-blog order.]
Before I discuss this wonderful film, I must give it praise.
FIRST, the movie stays faithful to the book, which has been a favorite for several generations. After watching the film for the second time this week, I read the book. It took only a little longer to read than it did to watch, although, granted this time I was not reading it aloud to my children. (This past summer, during or sail cruise, Charlotte's Web was the story read to the grandkids by their mothers each night before turning in...and yes, the grownups listened in with as much, if not more, interest than the kids.)
SECOND, I appreciate E.B. White's diligence at teaching his readers about the facts of life and words. It is not a bifurcation but a unification of all things physical and psychological.
THIRD, the movie takes the turning points in the book and plays them out nearly word for word. (And words are important to what this story is about.) Some critics have panned the movie for not updating the 1952 story by including contemporary slang and revising the story for the inane sake of being "creative" or "anti-establishment" or something else cockeyed. For me, such reviewers are irrelevant. The original story, and the movie, through the mission of Walden Media, is to improve literacy among children. I'm all for updating myths and things that need it, but not when we're recreating something so endearing as an E.B. White story, nor when the purpose is to encourage reading skills and literacy. Changing the "words" --- especially when words are an essential part of the plot, is just, well, ah....stupid.
FOURTH, the casting is perfect.
FIFTH, Fern has a more dominant role than in the book. This is an improvement, I think. It will help children identify more with the characters in the story, and with the importance of imagination and storytelling.
SIXTH, the animation (mostly of animals' lips from live-action footage) is suburb. Where larger elements (Wilbur's flip, and Charlotte spinning her web) are involved, the effects are seamless and stunning on a large screen. (A film for big screen theaters, not small screen TVs.) It's just a joy. I could watch the segments of Charlotte webbing, for hours, so intricate and fabulous is the detail that the animators took—you can see the love of their work in every frame. When Charlotte steps on a piece of hay, for instance, the hay gives, or bends. We also see in the animated segments, a true depth of field. When the camera is on an extreme closeup of Charlotte's "face" the back of her abdomen is out of focus, just as it would be if we were using a macro lens in real photography. This enhances the "real feel" of the visuals, and allows us to identify with the characters so much more.
SEVENTH, the directing is transparent, which is a great compliment. We are not taken off on tangents, or creative whims. We are told the story, beautifully. Thank you Mr. Winick, for allowing Mr. White's vision to prevail.
Post 2: Charlotte's Web: A Christ Myth
Post 3: Charlotte's Web: Pro-Life Themes
Post 4: The Moral Premise and Moment of Grace