E. B. White's Charlotte's Web, the best-selling children's paperback of all time, has remained one of the greatest masterpieces in kid lit for more than fifty years—as a bedtime story with their parents, or perhaps as the book that awakened their own love of reading. And for some, it's a tale unwittingly etched into the brain, thanks to a little sister who wouldn't stop playing the 1973 animated adaptation over and over against her brother's will … but I digress.
Book adaptations are a two-edged sword, capable of causing great anticipation, but also great worry. What seems like a safe bet for a blockbuster hit can quickly turn into an infamous flop if the movie strays too far from the source material, or a dry retread if it sticks too closely to it—and the stakes are even higher when it's a beloved classic like this.
Fortunately, this version gets it right. Yes, there are some questionable additions. And at times it plays the book's story too straight. But to quote another classic involving an adorable little swine, "That'll do, pig."
As with Babe, this is the story of a pig hoping to escape his inevitable fate as Christmas ham. Wilbur (voiced by 10-year-old Dominic Scott Kay), the runt of the litter, is spared from Farmer Arable's ax at the pleading of his young daughter Fern (Dakota Fanning), who raises the piglet like a puppy until he becomes too big for her to keep. There's room for him at the nearby farm of Uncle Homer Zuckerman (Gary Basarba), but that's no guarantee that Wilbur won't become bacon by year's end.
Enter Charlotte (voiced by Julia Roberts), a graceful and articulate spider who befriends Wilbur. When the young pig's future seems questionable, Charlotte commits her life to saving him the ...