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Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary; 7 Exciting Featurettes, Including ‘How Do They Do That?’; What Makes A Classic?; Deleted Scenes; Gag Reel; Music Video ‘Ordinary Miracle’ By Sarah McLachlan; and much more!

It COULD have been a pig’s ear but children’s favourite Charlotte’s Web has been cleverly adapted into a live-action family feature that ticks all the right boxes for younger viewers.

EB White’s novel is one of America’s literary institutions – a timeless classic that has guaranteed its author (who also penned Stuart Little) a place in history.

Whether its appeal is quite as widespread in the UK remains to be seen but anyone who appreciated the talking farmyard animals of Babe are sure to find themselves in hog heaven with this.

The story is simple. Farmer’s daughter Fern (Dakota Fanning) saves a runty piglet from the axe (literally) and nurses him to full health before he’s sent to her uncle’s neighbouring farm.

Initially ignored by his fellow barn-dwellers, plucky piglet Wilbur (voiced by Dominic Scott Kay) is befriended by a spider named Charlotte (Julia Roberts), who makes it her mission to save his bacon from the Christmas slaughterhouse.

By using her weaving abilities, Charlotte eventually brings everyone together, from animals to humans, in a story that ultimately extols the virtues of tolerance, togetherness and tenderness.

Gary Winick’s film is a hopelessly cute experience that trades well on the charisma injected by its starry vocal cast.

Aside from Julia Roberts and Dakota Fanning, there’s jolly turns from Robert Redford, as a grumpy horse, Steve Buscemi, as a moody rat, and Thomas Haden Church and OutKast singer Andre Benjamin, as a couple of dim-witted crows. Not to mention John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Beau Bridges and Kathy Bates as various animals and community members!

Winick, who previously directed dire comedy 13 Going On 30, manages to strike a nice balance between the slapstick humour (mostly provided by Buscemi’s rat and his encounters with the crows) and the message-making, while the Australian locations easily double for the Maine setting of the novel.

Just occasionally, things become repetitive and some of the CGI isn’t up to scratch. But come the surprisingly poignant conclusion, there probably won’t be a dry eye in the multiplex.

Certificate: U
Running time: 97mins