Lowdown: An anemic Babe.
Some 12 years ago, the story of a piglet called Babe knocked me out. I rented it on laserdisc expecting a mushy kids' film but instead I have found myself crying tears of joy, truly moved by the film. Therefore, when I have heard that there's a new pig in town, Charlotte's Web, I looked forward to watching it.
Like Babe, Charlotte's Web is a film where humans play only a secondary role. The chief human protagonist is that kid that pops up in every second film, Dakota Fanning. She catches her father as he is about to kill a baby pig and comes to the pig's rescue. Through the attention she bestows on the pig the pig becomes quite the character, so when he’s put in an animal farm full of a variety of other animals living in close contact with one another (how realistic is that?) he becomes friends with everyone.
Quickly enough the film's attention focuses on the young pig's chances of making it till after Christmas. Needless to say, being that this is an American film aimed at kids, the answer is pretty obvious; the question is how the pig's spared. Well, in Charlotte's Web's case, it comes down to help from Charlotte: an ugly spider voiced by Julia Roberts who finds a friend in the pig, the only character who would give her a break. Using her web she writes nice things in English about the pig, which make the humans realize just how unique the piglet is (lucky for the pig she wasn't a French speaking spider). And that's pretty much it for the film.
As my plot summary might have conveyed, Charlotte's Web's plot is pretty anemic. There's nothing terribly exciting and nothing terribly surprising about it, and the story is basically a repeat of most of what the original Babe has already provided.
The animals in the farm are shot in realistic style and even their speech looks authentic. Some major voice talents are used on them, including people like Robert Redford whom you would not expect to find in a film like Charlotte's; however, it cannot be said that these stars' presence is truly felt. This is not a Robin Williams doing Aladdin; they could have taken people off the street to achieve the same effect.
Best scene: The gag reel on the DVD includes a bit where the actors find themselves fighting with flies, unable to act their scene. Obvious proof the film really was shot in Melbourne, not that far from where Babe was shot.
More seriously, though, there's a scene at the film's start where immediately after Minnesota pleas her father to save the pig there is a cut and the camera focuses on the strips of bacon on Fanning's breakfast plate. This is the only true wise wink the film provides, though.
Overall: Charlotte's Web failed to stir me. It isn't boring and there are a few good jokes, but it is nothing to call home about. The story has its morals and they're OK, I guess, in that eternally patronizing Disney spirit, but I suspect that today's kids want higher octane films.
2 out of 5 stars; your time will be better spent re-watching Babe.