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CHARLOTTE'S WEB

charlotte.mzzzzzzz (6860 bytes)

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Debbie Reynolds, Paul Lynde, Henry Gibson, Agnes Moorehead
Directors:  Charles A. Nichols and Iwao Takamoto
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  Theatrical Trailer, “Meet the Animals” Game
Length:  94 Minutes
Release Date:  June 19, 2001

“It isn’t often you find a true friend who’s also a good writer.  Charlotte was both.”

Film ***1/2

Long before a lion cub named Simba learned about the Circle of Life, a runt pig named Wilbur was learning about it from a spider named Charlotte.  Through both E. B. White’s timeless children’s story and the magical animated film from Paramount, it’s a lesson we’ve been sharing in for years.

Charlotte’s Web is a beautiful, beautiful story.  I remember the tears it brought to my eyes seeing it for the first time as a youngster, but I was surprised to see how little the effect of the film has diminished over the years.  It doesn’t matter if you’re 5 years old or 105…these are warm, wonderful characters in a movie that has something of relevance to say about the preciousness of life and the importance of true friendship.

Wilbur (Gibson) is born a runt and doomed to make an early exit from life when the farmer’s daughter Fran gets a chance to raise him.  He grows up better than anybody would have imagined, which unfortunately means he takes over a pig’s proper role on a farm…he’s sold, and informed that one day he’ll be killed for food.

But with the help of an eloquent spider named Charlotte (Reynolds), and a bevy of loyal farmyard friends, Wilbur begins to learn that friendship is the stuff of miracles.  With a few tricks in her web, Charlotte begins spinning the plan that will insure Wilbur can live a long and happy life on the farm…though the whole while, she gently warns that her time with Wilbur can’t last nearly as long.

There is no flash here, no visual style…in other words, this isn’t a typical Disney-esque animated feature.  In many ways, it’s better off for it.  Few modern cartoon pictures even approach the depth of character this movie has, thanks to a well-penned story by White (who also penned the children’s fave Stuart Little), a buoyant bevy of tunes written by Mary Poppins composers Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, and the best and most well-used cast of voice talents I’ve ever seen in animation.  Henry Gibson, six years before his turn in Robert Altman’s Nashville, brings a wonderful and human quality to Wilbur the pig.  His voice captures all of the animal’s love for life, fear, sorrow, and optimism.   Equally impressive and memorable is the great Paul Lynde as Templeton the rat.  I loved every frame of the picture he was in.

But I can’t say enough about the effervescent Ms. Reynolds in the title role.  Halfway between Singin’ in the Rain with Gene Kelly and playing Albert Brooks’ Mother, she settled in to this warm, sweet character and injected her with life and vitality.  Her singing voice makes Charlotte’s spirit soar, and her motherly tones as Wilbur’s friend say everything there is to say about love and friendship.

Producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera may have acquired the bulk of their fame from their sitcom-styled Saturday morning and prime time cartoon offerings of The Flintstones, The Jetsons and many others, but I really think Charlotte’s Web is their quiet masterpiece.  Like the words Charlotte spins for Wilbur, this picture is “humble”, “terrific”, and “radiant”.  In this fast paced world of computer animation and mass merchandising dominating children’s entertainment, my hope is that kids who love Charlotte’s Web will forever grow into parents who love Charlotte’s Web and share it with their kids, who in turn grow up to do the same. 

Video ***

This is a quality anamorphic offering from Paramount.  The picture shows it’s age from time to time in the form of pockmarks and debris on the print, but not in a distracting way.  The tradition hand painted cels show a bit of shimmer from time to time; this is not a transfer problem but an indication of a different era in animation.  Colors are well rendered and vibrant throughout, with no distortions or bleeding.   All in all, a worthy effort.

Audio **

This two channel mono mix services the movie well.  Dialogue is clear, and the music is crisp and sweet.  Dynamic range is a bit limited, but not really missed.  Nothing spectacular, of course, but nothing to be critical about, either.

Features **

The disc contains a trailer and an interactive “Meet the Animals” game…sort of like a digital See n’ Say.

Summary:

If it’s been a long time since you’ve let yourself be caught up in Charlotte’s Web, this DVD offers the perfect chance to get re-acquainted with some old and dear friends.  If you loved it as a kid and now have kids of your own, you couldn’t do much better than to share this timeless, lovely classic with them.