Although Charlotte's Web suffers a little from Babe envy, it is still a very faithful and endearing live-action adaptation of the beloved children's classic. It's the talking pig movie for the next generation!
Based on E.B. White's enduring children's story, we meet Wilbur the Pig (Dominic Scott Kay), a runt who is saved from the axe by a little farm girl named Fern (Dakota Fanning). She raises Wilbur from infancy, but eventually she has to send Wilbur over to her uncle's neighboring farm since there's no room for a pig in her house. There in the barn, Wilbur meets the assortment of colorful animal characters: Betsy (Reba McEntire) and Bitsy (Kathy Bates), two pessimistic cows; motherly goose Gussy (Oprah Winfrey) and her henpecked hubby Golly (Cedric the Entertainer); Samuel (John Cleese), an uptight sheep; the skittish horse Ike (Robert Redford); the self-serving rat Templeton (Steve Buscemi); and of course, sweet Charlotte (Julia Roberts), a spider with a heart of gold. s ("I'll listen to you but I just can't look at you"). Buscemi is a particularly nice choice as the sneaky rat Templeton, who only thinks about filling his belly with food (no typecasting there, we swear). For pure comic relief, there are also two crows, voiced by Andre Benjamin and Thomas Haden Church, who just can't quite get around the whole scarecrow thing. And as Charlotte, Roberts has a truly soothing and loving tone, sort of how you'd imagine it from the book. As for the human aspect, Fanning continues to do what she does best, playing Fern with the right amount of youthful innocence, spunkiness and determination. Just wondering how we are going to handle it when this amazing little actress grows up and starts doing, like, adult things.
Actually, it is sort of a shame they couldn't get a live-action version of Charlotte's Web made before Babe. Sure, there was the 1973 animated cutesy film, but a live-action adaptation of this timeless tale really should have been the standard by which all computer-generated talking farm animal movies would follow, don't you think? Instead, Charlotte's Web pales ever so slightly in comparison. Oh well, water under the bridge. Director Gary Winick (13 Going on 30) still manages to invoke the wonderful and uplifting spirit of the novel, keeping faithful to the text in all ways. Visually, the film is crisp and flawless in its execution, particularly in the beauty and splendor of how Charlotte spins her webs, and emotionally, hearts will indeed swell and tears will flow. Charlotte's Web is the perfect family movie to inspire the next generation of young readers and viewers, as well as for the rest of us who fondly remember the childhood classic.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.