From the trailers, it really looked like the filmmakers had gotten it right. The classic children’s story was about to get an upgrade. But as it turns out, the live action version of Charlotte’s Web is a disappointment. The 1973 cartoon is far superior in almost every way—especially in plot, voice talent, and character development. Only when it comes to the musical score does the new film come out on top.
Charlotte’s Web is supposed to be a family film, the main thematic element being the importance of friendship and keeping one’s word. However, most of the promises the main characters make are rash, without much thought given to how they will follow through. (Not the best illustration of genuine commitment.)
An even bigger problem is an implicit message that runs through the film: in the case of rebellious children, parents are usually wrong. At least in the cartoon the parents didn’t allow any disrespect from their children, including headstrong Fern. In this new version, Fern repeatedly scolds her doormat of a father whenever she feels injustice is taking place. And near the end, her father tells her how proud he is of her. How nice of him. Heaven forbid that he ever correct his daughter, for that would have squelched her personality. (I’m probably coming across as more negative than I mean to be. The sympathetic view of rebellion in this film never comes anywhere near the toxic levels of, say, that anti-family bile-fest called Lilo & Stitch, which I will never ever ever ever ever let my children watch. If I could burn every copy of that wretched movie and FedEx the remains to hell itself, I would be more than happy to pay the postage.)
Various character motivations and plot points have been altered, taking away much of the dramatic impact of the original story. (The two crows are an exception, but while I found them entertaining they never actually contributed anything to the overall story.) The cartoon made its audience weep; this film merely puts a lump in one’s throat.
As stated before, the one place in which the movie shines is the music, composed by Danny Elfman. He wonderfully captures the spirit of E.B. White’s classic tale. Whereas the music for the web-spinning sequence in the 1973 cartoon was too dark and somber, the musical accompaniment here is nothing short of magical, hearkening back to the glory of Elfman’s Edward Scissorhands score. (Similarly, and ironically enough, the only good thing about Lilo & Stitch was the wonderful score by Alan Silvestri.) And while the ending song departs from Elfman’s thematic material, Sarah McLachlan’s soothing vocals make it somewhat appealing. I’m not a big fan of the title, though (“Ordinary Miracle”)—maybe it’s the theologian in me.
Anyway, I’ll stick to listening to the score (which is what I’m doing right now, actually) and steer clear of the movie. The cartoon will suffice for future viewings.
Artistic Merit: 5
Personal Marks: 5