This remake of the 1973 film based on the classic children’s book by E.B. White gets a new look and attitude, which works to some degree.
Fern Arable (Dakota Fanning) is a farmer’s daughter who gets an early lesson in life and death when her father goes to kill the smallest piglet in a litter. Fern, wanting to prevent what she believes is a grave injustice, convinces her father to let her raise the piglet. Wilbur (voiced by Dominic Scott Kay) becomes one pampered little pig (one scene that is reminiscent of the original is the pig being pushed in a baby carriage). When Mr. Arable sends Wilbur down the road to his brother-in-law’s farm, the pig tries his hardest to adapt and make friends with the other animals. This is a task that isn’t as easy as it may seem.
Enter Charlotte (voiced by Julia Roberts), a bright, eloquent creature who gives Wilbur the comfort that he needs. Once Wilbur finds out about his inevitable fate as food, Charlotte takes it upon herself to make him so spectacular and indispensable that the humans will never want to slaughter him. Rounding out the cast is the somewhat cantankerous rat, Templeton (voiced by Steve Buscemi); a loving, playfully combative goose and gander (voiced by Oprah Winfrey and Cedric the Entertainer); and other equally loquacious animals.
Charlotte goes about spinning webs with words on them to help Wilbur stand out. People from all over town come to see the miracle in the barn doorway, bringing all kinds of foot traffic. As you would expect, it works for a while, but they are still hints that his life is not completely safe yet. Wilbur ends up competing at the county fair, and if you’ve read the book, you know the rest of the story!
I have to admit that I kept going back to another classic with a porcine protagonist: Babe. Think about it: a little pig goes to a farm, bonds with the other livestock, and has a strong attachment to a human. Even some of the expressions Wilbur makes could have been outtakes from the other film. The live action combined with the animatronics made that a successful film, and the formula certainly worked here. The special effects and overall cinematography were wonderful as well.
But here’s the downside. Portions of the movie that really didn’t need to be explored include Mrs. Arable’s visits to a psychiatrist (Beau Bridges) to discuss her daughter’s solitude. Personally, I wanted to know more about the animals and what they were going to do, not if Fern was going to start hanging around with people. Fern herself gets a little snotty at times. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the character development, and really didn’t see much of a point of having her in the film in such a major capacity. Also missing from this version are the wonderful melodies that made the original so endearing for me.
I definitely laughed at certain jokes (especially involving two crows trying to dive into a cornfield but are held at bay by “the scary guy”), and rooted for the spider to succeed and the pig to live on. However, this movie didn’t give me the warm fuzzy feeling that the 1973 version did. I did get choked up during certain moments, but it wasn’t the same.
I would suggest viewing both film versions to get the full experience, and not to substitute this new one for the old. While I love the casting choices, it didn’t quite win me over as much as the first one. It is definitely cute and the kids will like it, but the first film may be a better choice.
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