Review: Charlotte’s Web

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.

Those are the last words in my favorite children’s book; a book so dear to my heart  the idea of making a movie made me physically cringe. Charlotte has been a theme in our family this year, from Jeffrey and I sobbing quietly early in the spring as we finished the book, to the boys trying to spin webs of their own with my thread cones, to the vacuum dying a tortured death due to sucking up those wads of boy-spider thread, to my hesitant viewing of the trailer for the movie to arrive at Christmas. Well, last night, it was finally time, and Jeffrey and I went to the theater.

My original copy of the book is sitting next to me on my desk as I contemplate how I feel about the movie. The inside fly page is inscribed from my mom and dad-“To Tracy Leigh, Merry Christmas to our little girl! Dec. 1979.” and under that, my own name written in childlike hand. I have read this very copy so many times, I know the entire first page by heart. Still.

With all that emotional and experiential flotsam in my teacup, I went to the theater anyway. 

In the book, the original illustrations by Garth Williams are a charming and integral part of the story experience. The director of the movie, who I am too lazy to link to, was sensitive enough to get this, and the cinematography is reflective of the mood and feel of the illustrations. It’s done with sensitivity and understatement.

As far as kids movies go, this is a quiet movie. There are no obnoxious songs- Sarah McLauchlan does the theme, and it’s lovely enough to merit picking up the soundtrack. There are a a few jokes thrown in for comic relief, and only one real departure from the original story- a pair of dim-witted crows that torment Templeton as he prowls the dump looking for Charlotte’s words.

The animals are all real, and while they obviously would have to be enhanced with CGI to talk, the voices are sweet and real. So often “childrens” movies are peppered with adult references, jokes and pop-culture tidbits- None here; the movie-makers exercised wonderful restraint, and carefully kept the mood of post WWII America intact.

Charlotte is a barn spider (google A. Cavatica if you want to see what a real barn spider looks like- they did a good job), and she looks like a real spider. Really. It’s a little startling at first, but it’s also wonderful- as the movie progresses and her love for Wilbur shows, she becomes lovely, and her spider-ness is not frightening or off-putting.

I wish there were more children’s movies of this caliber, and I sincerely hope is does well at the box office, to let movie makers know we don’t need every kids movie to be loud, obnoxious or full of age-inappropriate jokes (there are two flatulence jokes- but it’s a barn for goodness sake- barn animals make barn noises…)

Leave the really little ones at home- At over an hour and a half, my three-year old would never have been able to sit through it, but my five-year old was totally engrossed, and we both enjoyed it immensely. 

If you’ve read the book to your kids, take them to see the move. If you haven’t- read the book first, then go see the move. It pleases me to say this: They did a fabulous job; what a rare treat.

( Now if only DH had been willing to let me name Abby “Charlotte”… I always wanted to name my daughter after my favorite spider….oh well!)

5 thoughts on “Review: Charlotte’s Web

  1. I agree, it’s my absolute favorite children’s book. You just can’t find prose like that in many books period, let alone in children’s lit. I have a large copy I subject my children to regularly. Never get tired of it. But I’m nervous about the movie, somehow Dakota Fanning seems to commercial a kid for my liking as Fern and Templeton is sly and dry which isn’t my impression of him in the movie from the trailer–but I have heard good things about it in general.

  2. We went to a free screening a little over a week ago, and we, too, were very impressed with the film! [I also did a review of it on my blog.] I am giving a copy of the book to my daughter for Christmas (normally we read the book first and then see the movie, but it just didn’t happen that way this time) and I am excited to read it to her.

  3. Hi Mary- thanks for de-lurking. The picture of your kids on your site is darling.

    Em- I would have been devastated if they had ruined it. A rare opportunity when Hollywood done good.

    AOM- I’ll have to check out your review…

    Michelle- I was a little worried about Fanning, too, but it works- they keep her understated and childlike. It was nice.

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