‘Charlotte’s Web’ is a charming adaptation of the classic book

Robert Taylor

The Arable family enjoys some time with their pig Wilbur in the 2006 movie adaptation of “Charlotte’s Web.” PHOTO COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES

Credit: Jason Hall

The previews are touting Charlotte’s Web as the family movie of the decade and almost every child has fond memories of reading the classic book, so expectations for the film are high.

Probably too high.

As it stands, the fable of a pig who befriended a spider is a good, but not great, film that will appeal to more children than adults, but won’t put parents to sleep.

Pretty much everyone knows the story: a little girl on the verge of adolescence (Dakota Fanning) befriends a young pig named Wilbur who is destined for the slaughterhouse. While I’m positive that this kind of thing happens every year in many places in America (often ending in a nice breakfast with lots of bacon), in Charlotte’s Web the pig befriends a spider named Charlotte who lives in a barn, and that spider changes everything.

Charlotte promises Wilbur he will not go to the slaughterhouse, and if you’ve forgotten how she follows through on that promise I will not spoil it for you here.

The film’s special effects are magical. While most films settle with having just expensive-looking CGI bringing characters to life and not doing anything else with them, this film uses the effects to enhance the storytelling. We see Charlotte’s vivacity early in the film as she spins her web, but later in the film the special effects do a fantastic job of relating how tired she is getting.

But the special effects would be worthless if the story didn’t work. And while it’s been some time since these eyes perused the pages of the book, the film at least is faithful to the overall themes of the work. There are some problems with the immense amount of supporting character animals there are in the movie, because it causes the focus to be shifted from the relationships between Charlotte, Wilbur and Fanning’s Fern, but the emotional notes hit home when needed.

The other major problem with the film is the voice cast. It is implied that any animated movie premiering today will be filled with A and B list talent giving voice to the characters, and in most film it works without taking too much away from the story.

But here, the voices are very diverting. The viewer isn’t hearing Charlotte speak, they’re hearing Julia Roberts droning on and it gets distracting after awhile.

But there is much to love- from the phenomenal

musical score by Danny Elfman (one of the best of his career) to the sweet emotional messages the film presents without pounding it into the viewer’s head with a mallet.

It’s not often that a charming, sweet family film hits theaters. Most “family” movies use bodily functions for their comedy and are so obvious with their messages that you want to be bad just to spite the film. So take this opportunity to take a younger loved one to the multiplex and enjoy this tale, spun especially for you.

Contact ALL correspondent Robert Taylor at [email protected].

Charlotte’s Web

Starring Dakota Fanning, Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Andre Benjamin

Directed by Gary Winick

Distributed by Paramount Pictures

Rated G

Stater rating (out of five): ????