Friday, January 25, 2013

Movie – Charlotte’s Web (1973)

I may be wrong, but I am almost certain that Charlotte’s Web is the very first movie I ever saw in a theater.  For reasons now unknown to me my elementary school class was taken to see it.  I remember all of us kids running in and immediately heading right down to the front row.  I didn’t actually know why we were there (never having seen a movie in a theater before), but I could sense the excitement from the other kids.  I was surprised when the movie started, but quickly got wrapped up in it.  I remember all of us kids both laughing at some of the antics, especially those of the rat (whose voice I recognized as Paul Lynde from Hollywood Squares), and crying at a scene at the end.  At some point years later I did watch this again as an adult, but my memories of having seen it as a child are actually the ones that are more solid in my mind.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the movie was based on the children’s book by Maine author E.B. White.  He had published it in 1952, seven years after Stuart Little, another of his books that was eventually turned into a movie.  White was not born in Maine, but he lived the last fifty years of his life here, and that included when he was writing all of his books.  In fact, the country fair section of Charlotte’s Web is based on the Blue Hill Fair which was held annually near where he lived in Brooklin, Maine.

In case you have not read the book or seen either movie adaptation (there was a live action film released in 2006), then here is an overview.  Wilbur (voice of Henry Gibson) is a pig who was born the runt of the litter.  The farmer who owned the pigs was going to do away with him, but the farmer’s daughter begged him to spare Wilbur’s life.  He did and the girl raised him as a pet.  Unfortunately, because Wilbur lived the farmer eventually had to sell him off, although Wilbur was kept longer than any of his siblings.

At first the new farm he goes to is very strange, but he eventually makes friends with the other animals there.  Among them is Charlotte, a spider.  Debbie Reynolds provided the voice for Charlotte, reportedly for free because she so loved the book.

Wilbur is happy until one of the animals tells him they will not be his friend since in a few months he will just be turned into bacon and ham.  Wilbur is scared, but Charlotte comes up with an idea of spinning words into her web to attract attention to Wilbur and maybe save his life.

From this overview you can tell that this is not like the Disney movies of its day where death is never a possibility.  Charlotte’s Web is more like the early Disney films (i.e. Bambi) where children are not shielded from the sadness of possibly losing someone they care about.  Personally, I think it is important to not talk down to kids.  Yes, they need to be protected, but they should not be hermetically sealed away from seeing anything that might make them sad.  In fact, parents are probably more bothered by the sadness because they think it might be hurting their kids far more than it actually is.

Reportedly, White wasn’t thrilled by the studio adding in some songs to the story, but test audiences for the live action version actually caused the studio to make some changes to accommodate the fans who loved certain songs in the original.  I have not seen the live action remake, so I cannot compare the two films.  I’m assuming it’s a bit like The Parent Trap remake where they had the girl in the second film singing one line of the Let’s Get Together song that was performed in the original.

My positive memories of Charlotte’s Web are from the perspective of a child.  As I mentioned above, I saw it again as an adult, but I do not really remember my impressions of it then.  This leads me to believe that the film is probably best viewed by children and that adults might not be as thrilled with it.  If you’ve got a young child, though, especially one that has read the book, then I recommend you give this film a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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  1. Interesting thing about the book, the little brother takes his BB gun on the school bus to school and no one thinks anything about it. It's just mentioned in passing.

    1. Thanks for mentioning that. I didn't remember it.

      When I was in highschool a friend carried a foot long Bowie knife around with him in his gym bag. He didn't flaunt it, though, so the school didn't have to give him a hard time about it.

  2. It's been ages since I've watched the movie or read the book, but I remember the themes of life and death, and ultimately (with Charlotte's offspring floating away) renewal. Nice review! ...And as a parent, I completely agree with your comments about not talking down to kids or hiding them from unpleasant reality of loss.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on children. I appreciate it.