Director: Gary Winick (13 Going on 30)
Screenplay: Susannah Grant Erin Brockovich), Karey Kirkpatrick Over the Hedge director)
Cast: Voices of Dakota Fanning (War of the Worlds), Julia Roberts (Closer)
"The season developed and matured. Another year's installment of flowers, leaves, nightingales, thrushes, finches, and such ephemeral creatures, took up their positions where only a year ago others had stood in their place when these were nothing more than germs and inorganic particles." Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles
The Maine farm is idealized, almost as if there were no smells from farting cows or slops to muddy the barn. But in the new Charlotte's Web both are sweetly displayed in a still pristine world where a pig wins your heart and a spider is all heart. Welcome to old time filmmaking that updates itself with CG-assisted animatronics and pretty people dragged off the pages of a children's story book.
This new version, also standing proudly next to the successful first Babe, is refreshing with an absence of sardonic pop culture references prevalent today in children's films. Just a solid classic where a lovely spider named Charlotte (the voice of Julia Roberts - - maybe her best work yet!) saves a loveable spring runt–of-the-litter piglet named Wilbur (Dominic Scott Kay) from the smokehouse by relying on an arsenal of words.
As has always been the case with the 1952 E.B. White classic, adults can enjoy the story, given the allegorical levels of meaning that jump like "Rat" (Steve Buscemi) out of his extravagant hole. On one level Charlotte's Web is about promises kept, as the spider fulfills her promise to Wilbur despite the sacrifice she will have to make. On another level, it is about the cycles of life that include the glory of birth and the inevitability of death. White and Winick don't hammer the lessons home; they gently portray them as if we were listening to a song about every season having its turn.
As Charlotte searches for the right words to save Wilbur, another level of the allegory is the necessity to be educated if you want to be a surviving, productive being. This film, together with the word-heavy History Boys, has renewed my enthusiasm for holiday fare.