“It’s not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
I have a confession to make: I have never read Charlotte’s Web. I have never been a big book reader. It takes a certain type of book to hook me, and as a kid, that meant fast paced stories that had animals as main characters. Charlotte’s Web only had one of those criteria, and therefore I never even bothered to read it.
Because of this lack of reading, my opinion might be a lot different than someone who has read the book. I feel that people tend to be overly critical about lots of small details when it comes to book adaptations. I am, I have to say, very lenient. With most adaptations, I see the movie for what it is and view it more as a companion to the book. The book is almost always going to be better because for a lot of people that’s how they first experienced it. Reading a book, your imagination can take hold. The characters talk how you want them to talk, and you imagine a world that is very specifically yours. A good author can paint a very vivid picture of characters and setting, but all the details that your imagination adds may not ever be quite the same as anyone. This is why I feel comparing movies to books is a bit of a waste of time. They’re both a separate form of art. Judge them on themselves.
Ok now to the movie. I remember this one a lot. We owned it when I was a kid, and as I was watching it again, the words to the songs came back to me. Funny lines I used to laugh at as a kid I recited word for word. It was all there, somewhere, in my muscle memory. I found that extremely amazing.
The first thing that struck me, watching it as an adult without (trying to anyway) nostalgia glasses on is how timeless it is. It was made in the 70s, and sure, you can sort of tell because of the voice actors or the animation, but at the same time, the characters and the story really are timeless. Like the movie Babe, (which I will review later at some point), it gives a voice to farm animals. What kid doesn’t love animals, especially baby ones? What kid wouldn’t want to save the baby pig from slaughter and raise it? I know I sure would! (I was always that kid who came home with injured baby birds and kept them in a box for a day, convinced I was going to heal them… until they died…)
That leads me to another thing I noticed that this movie does extremely well. This, in a lot of ways, is a very dark movie. The subject matter (saving a pig from being slaughtered and death/cycle of life) is pretty intense for its target audience. At the same time, this movie doesn’t talk down to its audience. It doesn’t sugar coat things. The scene where Wilbur discovers his destiny is as straight to the point as possible: the farmer is going to fatten you up and kill you to use you as bacon or pork, the ram says (or something like that). He’s worth more dead than alive. It’s a big subject for a kid to wrap his or her head around. To be honest, I don’t remember how much of this I got as a kid. I don’t remember it affecting me too much. It was almost like it was something I already knew. Pigs are for food. That means that they have to die. I will, however, add that Charlotte’s death always affected me. It was sad, horrible, and I’m sure I used to cry and run to ask my mom why people died. But still, it was handled very well.
That being said, there is also value in life. Our titular spider sees that, and agrees to attempt to save Wilbur’s life. If there was ever an award for the most selfless character ever, I think my vote would go for Charlotte. She essentially spends her entire life giving her all to save her friend. It’s also a great lesson in friendship. You don’t have to look the same to be friends (something that ram needs to learn) and friends look out for each other. Wilbur of course returns the favor by making sure her egg sac and subsequent children are well looked after.
The other thing that this movie and the book are known for is demonstrating the power of the written word. Teaching kids vocabulary is a wonderful thing, and if I were honest, I’m pretty sure the reason I know what the word “humble” means is because of this movie. It points out the good things about words (the right ones can be used in such a powerful way that it can save lives) and the bad things (“humans are so gullible. They’ll believe anything that’s in print.”) A correctly chosen word is important, and Charlotte knows this.
I also feel like I can’t do any type of reaction to this movie without mentioning the music. Yes, some of it is insanely boring (I remember fast forwarding through “mother earth/father time” as a kid), but the majority is upbeat, cheerful and extremely catchy. I mean come on:
Oh wow look at him now, Zuckerman’s famous pig
Suey whaddya see, The greatest hog in history
Fine swine wish he was mine, What if he’s not so big?
He’s one terrific, radiant, humble thing-a-ma-jig-a-ma-pig!
Plus, any song that can rhyme “Great” and “Articulate” has my vote.
It’s not perfect movie by any means. Wilbur is kinda a sniveling baby half of the time, and many of the other characters aren’t really fleshed out. You have Fern’s brother Avery who just seems stuck in there for comic relief. I still also don’t understand the gosling Jeffrey who wants to be like the pig. I thought it was funny as a kid, but now? I don’t quite get it. Maybe it has no point, and that’s fine. Like I mentioned, some of the songs are quite boring, and if you have kids I honestly suggest fast-forwarding through them like we did. Otherwise your kids might lose focus. Then there’s Fern. She’s nice enough, but there’s something that I really don’t understand. At one point in the movie, she talks to her family about what happens on the farm when she goes to visit Wilbur, using the names of all the animals, including Charlotte. This suggests that she can understand what the animals are saying. If that’s true… why hasn’t she told her uncle Zuckerman NOT to kill Wilbur?? If she really loves this pig, why isn’t SHE fighting for him?
All in all, I’d definitely recommend this movie. It’s an oldie but a goodie, and as I said, it’s completely timeless. I have seen the newer live action remake (with Dakota Fanning), and that was good too (I don’t own it), but for me, I have a special place in my heart for the animated one.
I would give Charlotte’s Web (1973) 4 out of 5 stars.
Up next: The Care Bears Movie….