Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web

DVD Rating: ****1/2

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Read Stephanie Wolfe Murray's film review of Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web poses a real problem for anyone trying to put together a package of DVD extras. On the one hand, the film is an extraordinary technical feat, placing together on screen live-action humans with animals who combine live-action, puppetry, animatronics, part-CGI and full-CGI (at times all together in single, seamless sequences), all on a Melbourne set designed to look like seasonal Maine. On the other hand, the film's main constituency is young children, for whom the details of such technical information are unlikely to be very diverting.

The solution found by this excellent disc from Paramount Home Entertainment is to divide and conquer: most of the more technical material is confined to two full audio commentaries (one by director Gary Winick, the other by producer Jordan Kerner and FX supervisor John Andrew Berton Jr), while the many accompanying featurettes are far more kid-friendly.

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Usually directors complain about having to work with children and animals, but in his commentary Winick has nothing but praise for his younger cast; and while he stresses the patience required to work with livestock, he also points out that the use of CGI to animate the creatures' mouths made it possible to rewrite the dialogue for every single animal scene as late as the post-production stage. Winick is particularly eloquent on the challenges involved in creating a CG spider that was realistic, while able to engage the viewers' sympathies. He also reveals that 1,500,000 feet of footage had to be painstakingly edited down to 9,000 for the final film, including the reduction of an original 11 farts to two (and of six burps to one) for the final cut.

In the second commentary, Kerner points out that many of the film's scenes which deviate from EB White's 1952 book were in fact drawn from the author's own handwritten notes and alternative versions. The two crows, however, were wholly invented, although their names (Elwyn and Brooks) were in fact White's forename and middlename. Berton Jr describes the film's complex blending of the real and the digital to create believable animal characters who are never anthropomorphised, and he expresses his well-deserved pride in the emotive impact achieved in the final scene between live-action Wilbur and all-CG Charlotte and Templeton.

The longest featurette, Making Some Movie (28 minutes), is in many ways the most disappointing. Almost all the principal cast and crew put in an appearance, but only in soundbite-sized chunks that do little more than mark their presence - although we do get to see the ballooning spiders that showed up by chance one day on set, providing a crucial visual reference for one of the film's last scenes. It is, as Winick puts it, "the kismet of miracle".

Some Voices (nine minutes) is a whirlwind introduction to the voice cast (minus Robert Redford and André Benjamin) - it is superficial but watchable enough. Flacka's Pig Tales (11 minutes) and How Do They Do That? (five minutes) are aimed squarely at children, focussing with good humour on the intricacies of live animal wrangling, complete with riddles, glosses on vocabulary and nuggets of zoological trivia. What Makes A Classic? (five minutes) shows Kerner, screenwriters Susannah Grant and Karey Kirkpatrick, and EB White expert Lucien L Agosta all speculating on why the author's story has proven so successful. Where Are They Now? (seven minutes) traces the fates of the film's many pig performers, all of whom have reassuringly had their bacon saved and been adopted out to homes and sanctuaries where they can wallow contentedly for the term of their natural lives.

Besides these there are two music videos, two picture galleries and a three-minute gag reel. Last but not least, there are six deleted scenes (with optional director's commentary explaining the reasons for deletion), including a very elaborate sequence involving 'lost' character Susy the Dog (whose growlings are voiced by none other than Jennifer Garner).

Reviewed on: 24 May 2007
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Charlotte's Web packshot
The farmer's daughter and a talkative spider try to save the life of the smallest piglet in the barn.
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Product Code: PHE9142

Region: 2

Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1

Extras: How Do They Do That?, Flacka's Pig Tales, A Day at the Fair, Where Are They Now?, What Makes a Classic?, Making Some Movie, Some Voices, Deleted Scenes, Two Feature Commentaries, Farm Photo Album, Two Music Videos, Gag Reel

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