Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Charlotte's Web (Gary Winick, 2006) E.B. White's children's classic comes out in a live action version (there was an animated musical in 1973 with Debbie Reynolds as Charlotte the spider, Paul Lynde as Templeton the rat, and Henry Gibson as Wilbur the pig--Rex Allen narrated), which could just as well be called "Babe II," if there's wasn't already one. Not to worry, though. As movies of children's classics go, this one's really good--a bit awash in celebrity voices, but the kids won't care, and it does give the parents something to do ("Who's doing the cows do you think?") Since I've given you the '73 version, I'll tell you who does the same for 2006--a very sober Julia Roberts as Charlotte, Steve Buscemi as Templeton, and kid-actor Dominic Scott Kay as Wilbur--Sam Shepard narrates. Dakota Fanning ably shoulders the role of Fern, and while she's not as scarily real in this one, she's not annoyingly sugar-coated , either. Director Winick keeps the special effects unflashy, although there are some intricate CGI spider-web moves (left over from Sam Raimi story-boards, no doubt) that are over quickly. It feels properly home-spun, and Danny Elfman's score, though it brings on the "Edward Scissorhands" Choir, still manages to evoke the joys of simple gifts without beating you over the head with them. I remember one of my grade-school teachers reading "Charlotte" in class, and at one pivotal point, the entire class weeping. That point in the movie brought tears to K., so it did its job. The bonus is you get to hear Robert Redford doing an out and out comedy turn. How rare is that?