FILM: Charlotte's Web CERTIFICATE: U RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes. CINEMA: Palace and Broadway Cinemas. RATING: 6/10
THIS is the second adaptation of American writer E. B. White's classic 1952 children's book about a farmyard pig who strikes up a friendship with a spider.
The first was a reasonably well-received 1973 animated film, but we now have a live-action version complete with CGI wizardry to make the various animals talk.
Up-and-coming child star Dakota Fanning plays Fern, who stops her father killing the runt from a litter of pigs.
She names it Wilbur and hand-rears the little porker until it is big enough to live in her uncle's barn next door.
From here the action centres on Wilbur and his loneliness as he tries to make friends with the other animals until his cause is taken up by Charlotte, a friendly spider who decides his innocent good nature is worth saving.
The usual array of star names (Oprah Winfrey, John Cleese, Robert Redford, Kathy Bates etc) provide voices for the various barn animals and get big cheques for doing very little.
More impressive is Templeton the longtail who virtually steals every scene he is in and provides some much needed grit to a very sugar-coated tale.
The bulk of the story involves Charlotte weaving words in her web ( 'Some Pig', 'Terrific', 'Radiant', 'Humble' ) to attract attention to Wilbur and hopefully save him from the fate of most pigs.
Julia Roberts voices Charlotte in a suitably maternal way and pulls off the guardian angel bit without getting too sentimental.
The big problem for me was the decision to portray Wilbur by a well-spoken, all-American, Mom's apple pie-loving kid. The voice is provided by 10-year-old Dominic Scott Kay who turns him into the cutest (and therefore annoying) pig you can imagine.
The film makers may as well have gone the whole hog and dressed him in a baseball cap and had him singing Jimmy Osmond songs. In the book Wilbur is much more slow-witted and unimpressive, which is precisely why he becomes worth saving.
As a book, Charlotte's Web is in a league of its own — a very simple story with some obvious messages, it has become almost an essential text (particularly in the US) about friendship, trust, life and death.
According to Publisher's Weekly it is the best-selling children's book of all time with sales in excess of 45 million (the first Harry Potter book is down in seventh place).
On the whole the film is a faithful adaptation. It captures the timeless quality of the book where everything is wholesome and doesn't resort to any slapstick comedy or obvious belly-laughs.
However, it keeps to the spirit of the book in a very unimaginative way and the emotional points are laboured too much, particularly by a needless voiceover at the end which spells out the message for anyone who may have missed it.
Charlotte's Web is very much a children's film aimed at children, and as such does a fine job. It's a competent retelling of a classic story that won't offend anyone and is difficult to dislike.
That said it will be forgotten within a few weeks and the ultra-cute characterisation of Wilbur — resulting in half the audience probably rooting for his demise — forces this into the below-average category.
Overall – 6/10.