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Charlotte's Web
DVD disk
Apr 16, 2007 By: Quigles
Charlotte's Web order
Director:
Gary Winick

Actors:
Dakota Fanning
Julia Roberts (voice)
Steve Buscemi (voice)

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A spider named Charlotte attempts to save a small pig from being made into pork by communicating to the humans through her web.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Creepiness of the spider aside, this adaptation of E.B. White's classic novel makes for some well meaning and heartfelt family fun. It's a simple tale, really, with the focus being more on the message and the characters than the story. That's a good thing though, because it allows kids to just enjoy watching the talking animals without having to worry about any complex subplots.

At the same time, however, the movie's rarely patronizing towards its young viewers. Whereas almost every other kid's film shoves its ONE very blatant and unsubstantial moral down the throats of its audience, this picture has several important messages, all of which are dealt with delicately and appropriately. The movie also avoids the standard gross-out humor seen in a lot of kiddie affairs (especially those with animals); that is, excluding a silly rotten egg gag and one quick fart joke (which was probably the most played clip in all of the trailers, TV spots, etc. - shocking!). It's all pretty innocent stuff... Well, other than a few key hints of realism and maturity. Then again, it's those key hints that help to put this family film a cut above the rest.

Despite the common problems that come with hiring well-known celebrities to voice CGI/animated characters, the casting here is surprisingly apt (Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer, Robert Redford, Kathy Bates, etc.). Buscemi is especially perfect in his role, lending as much personality to Templeton the self-absorbed rat as he does with his live-action personas. And surprisingly enough, even Julia Roberts works well. I've always found her voice to be a balancing act between bland and grating, but the relaxed softness of her approach to Charlotte (the spider) turns out to be an ideal fit.

Along with the voice acting, the CGI also helps in bringing the characters to life. The visuals aren't quite to the point where they actually look real, but they're definitely getting there. For the most part, the effects blend with the live-action footage seamlessly.

I wouldn't say the movie's nearly as "magical" as the trailers would like you to believe, but just like the CGI, it comes pretty darn close to hitting its mark.
THE EXTRAS
Despite this being a kid's film, there's a fairly large helping of surprisingly substantial extras featured here.

Audio Commentary (with director Gary Winick)

Audio Commentary (with producer Jordan Kerner and visual effects supervisor John Andrew Berton Jr.)

Making Some Movie (28:48): A pretty standard making-of featurette, but still a good one. It goes over script development, the actual shooting of the film, the visual effects, set design, etc. It's worth watching for the behind-the-scenes footage.

Some Voices (8:45): As the title suggests, this examines the voice actors behind the animal characters.

Flacka's Pig Tales (11:27): This children-oriented featurette details how they used pigs to work in the film.

How Do They Do That? (4:55): Takes a look at what the animal trainers had to do so that real animals could play their part in the movie.

Where Are They Now? (6:54): Shows the current locations of animals used in the film.

What Makes a Classic (5:19): Explores aspects of the original book/story, as well as nice bits of information concerning author E.B. white.

A Day at the Fair! (0:55): A short animated photo gallery.

Deleted Scenes (6:51): There are six scenes, available with optional commentary by Gary Winick. A few of these are actually quite good, and might've fit nicely into the film.

World Reading Record: Details a Guinness Book Record on simultaneous readings of "Charlotte's Web."

There are also two ("Ordinary Miracle" by Sarah McLachlan, and "Make a Wish" by Bob Carlisle and Lucy Kane), a Gag Reel (3:04), a Farm Photo Album, and Previews.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
As long as they're up for watching something a little more old-fashioned in its storytelling, children should have a fun time with this message-filled family dramedy. Adults won't find it particularly funny ("Egg-xactly"? Really?), but at the very least they'll be able to appreciate how little it patronizes its young audience. And in many cases, they'll probably be feeling all warm and fuzzy right along with their kids. If that's not a sign of a quality family film, then I don't know what is.
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