Charlotte’s Web. Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, and
Essie Davis star in a film written by Susannah Grant and Karey
Kirkpatrick and directed by Gary Winick.
Reviewed by D.J. Palladino
Try to watch this film without thinking of Chris Noonan and
George Miller’s Babe films. The pig talks. The cows wisecrack and
fart. The sheep — led by our own John Cleese, as an elegantly
literate and admonishing voice — deliver a conformist chorus. The
human actors mix hard-edged realism with the tenderness you expect
from a children’s book set on the allegorical family farm. It was
even partly made in Australia.
But this is also a classic American novel, and the filmmakers do
justice to the perfectly wrought story and ideas behind it. Though
made Down Under, it feels like Maine most of the time. It feels
like fable, too. E.B. White, the former New Yorker writer beloved
by kids and journalists, created this odd mortality parable in a
vein Americans ought to understand. Hope in this world is based on
doing something that draws the media and a lot of gawking
neighbors, a phenomenon that routinely turns wonders into roadside
attractions. The two-headed snake, the tortilla Jesus, and the
Watts Towers are radiant metaphors for New World possibilities.
White’s book manages to convey all this delirious wonder without
avoiding the points of a story based in reality. Charlotte’s
nobility, after all, is kindness in the face of doom. But it’s the
whimsical fable that wins out in the end, when the baby spiders fly
away crying “Whee!” for a pig redeemed.
Dakota Fanning is predictably winning, but the real strength of
the film comes from its supporting players. The Arable family, and
most poignantly Essie Davis as the mother, glow like paragons of
country virtue while suggesting a ruddy sophistication, too.
But the best part is the beauty and economy of Gary Winick’s
direction. It’s ample with color and scenery to please grown-ups
and weird-funny enough to keep the kids attuned to the American