I had initial hesitation in deciding whether to watch this movie - not because it features a talking pig ala Babe, but probably because, if rumour has you believe, that viewers will swear off pork. They look so cute that you would not imagine them being on your dinner table, ever after. I've read the book when I was a kid, but heck, I can't remember much of the details beyond the friendship between spider and pig.
Wilbur the piglet's destiny is set from birth - being the odd one out without access to its mother's teat, he's earmarked for immediate transformation to pork, but the intervention of a young girl Fern (Dakota Fanning) helped prevent it, albeit for a little while. Put in a barn with the other animals, Wilbur is in desperate need of friendship to wilt away his loneliness, but given the indifferent attitudes amongst the resident animals, he gets a none too friendly introduction to farm life. That is until he meets Charlotte, a spider who will try help to extend the lifespan of Wilbur, saving the spring pig from becoming Christmas ham.
It's a story about friendship, and the miracles gained from trust, help, and the fulfilling of promises. And this movie gets a huge boost through its A-list voice talents, with the likes of, check this out - Julia Roberts as Charlotte, Steve Buscemi as Templeton the selfish rat, John Cleese as Sam Sheep, leader of the pack of sheep followers (played to hilarity), Katy Bates, Cedric the Entertainer, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Redford, Thomas Haden Church, Andre Benjamin and Sam Shepard. They seemed to have a rip-roaring time, and I thought Julia Roberts' Charlotte came across as extremely calm and collected, while the character with probably the best lines was Templeton the rat.
Fanning already got experience playing opposite her animal counterparts, like in Dreamer earlier this year, though this time in the barnyard the animals are enhanced by technology and graphics. Her role however is limited in screen time, and although there are hints on puppy love, it's very much unexplored in depth as the focus is squarely on our animal friends. The score is an unrecognizable Danny Elfman contribution without the dark overtones, and the songs played during the animated stills of the end credits, do sound radio friendly enough to warrant airplay.
Charlotte's Web is a feel good, heartwarming family movie which is suitable for this holiday season. It is uncomplicated, and has a simple message, but is engaging enough for both children and adults. A warning though, the movie is poignant yet hopeful, so to sentimental folks, a tissue or two will help.