The overwhelming feeling I had when walking out of the cinema with Kira, my five- year-old companion, was “how sentimental can you get?” I dislike having my emotions placed in turmoil by clever words and music. However I have been forced to reflect. On reaching home, Kira immediately asked me to draw a piglet, then asked an artist friend to draw eleven of them, and having coloured them pinkly she launched on a discussion of spiders, their eggs and the wonder of their webs, while I cooked eggs, bacon and sizzling sausages, which Kira ate with unusual gusto.

Charlotte’s Web was written by E B White in 1951, followed 22 years later by an animated film (with songs) and, in 2003, by Wilbur’s Great Adventure, another cartoon. One of the lovelier things about this latest remake is that it is not animated, which for me is a great relief. Nothing is exaggerated, nothing taken to extremes. It is a straight film, of people and animals and farm buildings in gently rolling countryside. OK, the animals talk, so there was some magic involved here, and the spider’s face has more than make up added, but Julia Roberts does a soothing job with her voice and believe me, she hogs the dialogue. What a pity that Robert Redford (the horse) and John Cleese (the sheep) didn’t have more to say.

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I think we all know the story by now: a pink piglet, the runt of the litter, is about to be taken away for the chop, because his mummy doesn’t have enough teats to go round. Fern (Dakota Fanning), the farmer’s daughter, is outraged and persuades her father to let her keep him. Funny scenes follow; smuggling Wilbur – that’s his name - to school; Wilbur in a doll’s pram; Wilbur in bed; until one day he has outgrown such activities and must go and live in the barn and be like the other animals. However, bacon smoking time is not far away and everyone is anxious to protect Fern. But one of the farm animals blurts out the truth. Wilbur is horror struck (funny the way they all seem to understand the concept of death), but the valiant Charlotte promises to come to the rescue and, in so doing, weaves her magical web to great effect.

What is astounding, from this point onwards, is the restraint shown by director Gary Winick. The spider’s webs remain just that. They could have been exaggerated, blown out of proportion, with rainbow colours running through them, reaching to the sky, but along with the spirit of the rest of the film, nothing takes us from the quiet rural life of America in the Forties.

It would be wrong not to mention the acting abilities of the rat (voiced by Steve Buscemi) and the charming, talented Miss Fanning. Frankly, Charlotte was too much for me, but she is "some spider" and it would be carping to accuse her of overdosing on syrup. To be fair, I think her tear jerking dialogue towards the end came directly from the book, as did the narrative voiceover and other dialogue, so who am I to complain?

The book is now a classic and tells a tale well worth the telling, something this movie follows faithfully, with an abundance of care and dutiful respect.

Reviewed on: 10 Feb 2007
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The farmer's daughter and a talkative spider try to save the life of the smallest piglet in the barn.
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Festivals:

CFF 2007
EIFF 2009

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