Charlotte's Web (U)
ANDREW CLARKE Based on a best-selling children's book, Charlotte's Web on screen looks a lot like Babe, the movie about the talking pig which melted hearts all over the world in 1995.
Based on a best-selling children's book, Charlotte's Web on screen looks a lot like Babe, the movie about the talking pig which melted hearts all over the world in 1995.
Filled with a barnyard full of CGI animals, this is a highly moralistic tale which deals with the cycle of life and death, that will delight youngsters.
Dakota Fanning - Hollywood's child star of the moment - takes the lead as Fern, a farmer's daughter who saves a young piglet, the runt of the litter, from her father's axe.
She names him Wilbur and he lives
to grow up in her uncle's barn across
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the road. Once the humans have left,
the animals in the barn find their own voices.
Oprah Winfrey provides the voice of a sassy goose, Robert Redford is the sturdy, if slightly aloof horse, John Cleese is an opinionated sheep, while Steve Buscemi is a greedy rat and Kathy Bates is a flatulent cow.
At first the animals are a little unwelcoming towards the hyper-active piglet, but he makes friends with Charlotte, the local spider with a talent for writing words in her web.
When it becomes clear that young Wilbur is destined to end up as a Christmas ham, Charlotte sets about trying to convince the humans of Wilbur's special qualities. The idea being that if he is a celebrity then it would be more difficult to eat him.
Charlotte's idea of spinning piggy recommendations like "Some Pig" into her web works up to a certain point and although Wilbur does come a minor celebrity in the neighbourhood, it turns
out he needs to be a big prize-winner at
the county fair to be really safe next Christmas.
The film is given a storybook feel thanks to the lush, warm photography and Sam Shepard's homely narration.
Dakota Fanning maybe the human focus of the story but it is Wilbur the pig who provides the real heart of the film. Despite the changing seasons, Wilbur remains a naïve youngster that needs to be guided by the wise old spider.
The film looks and sounds like a sequel
to Babe and although the young actor providing the voice for Wilbur is
different from Babe, he has the same
sound and captures that same sense of wide-eyed wonder at the world around
Much of the humour is broad and child friendly. The flatulent cows will have the kids rolling in the aisles as will Buscemi's rascally rat - whose life is one feeding opportunity after another. And Cleese does a good job at turning Basil Fawlty into a disdainful sheep.
Charlotte's Web is an easy-on-the-eye, children-friendly, half-term winner which will not try the patience of parents.
Importantly, also, it is a film that doesn't outstay its welcome.