Charlotte's Web (2006) artwork

Charlotte's Web (2006)

15th May 2007

Mixing real life animals and CGI animation, Charlotte's Web is a delightful story of one little pigs quest to stay alive and save his bacon - and all with the help of a spirited farm girl and an extraordinary spider.
Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer, Kathy Bates, Reba McEntire, Robert Redford, Thomas Haden Church, André Benjamin, Dominic Scott Kay, Dakota Fanning
1 Hour 33 Minutes
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Fern Arable is a young farm girl growing up on the Zuckerman farm in 1950's America. Although she is use to farm life and all that it entails, she always looks forward and welcomes all new animal additions to the fold. So when the old sow has a litter of piglets she is the first to go and look at the new arrivals. However, she is horrified to discover that her father is about to show the runt of the litter the sharp and shiny end of an axe. Grabbing the pig from her father, he allows her to adopt the little porker after she says that she will feed it and look after it. Naming him Wilbur, she happily raises him as a pet until, and as with all cute and cuddly little animals, he becomes too big to live in the family home and is sent to live in the barn on her Uncle Homer's neighbouring farm.

Arriving at his new home, Wilbur meets an assortment of new animals, including cows Betsy and Bitsy, motherly goose Gussy and her hen pecked husband Golly, Samuel the rather uptight sheep, Ike the spider fearing horse, Templeton the rat, and of course, Charlotte the spider with a heart of gold. So when Wilbur finds out that he might be making a one way trip to the smoke house and the Christmas dinner table, Charlotte makes a promise to her newly found friend that she'll do everything in her power to make sure he'll see the Christmas snow and everyone in the barn - including a rather self centered rat - will do their best to make sure her promise is kept.

And Charlotte's master plan to help save Wilbur's bacon? With a web and rather good vocabulary for a spider, she spins praiseworthy words about Wilbur into her web for all to see. Naturally, this is not an every day occurrence and the Zuckerman farm soon becomes a booming tourist attraction with everyone eager to see the web. But, as with many attractions, the public quickly get bored and Charlotte is forced to come up with even more elaborate and praiseworthy words. However, the fickle public are hard to please and they become bored with it all. There's only one thing for it, Wilbur must win the best pig in show at the forthcoming annual county agricultural fair and become a pig that is truly worth saving.

The picture is bright, rich and colourful with plenty of detail throughout. It is a very good transfer indeed with an above average bit-rate along with no hints of pixelisation, outlining, artifacting or print damage. The film also highlights just how well CGI special effects have progressed with real life animals, animatronics and CGI special effects blending in seamlessly. Other than the facial expressions - and the rat - you'd be hard pressed to work out just when and where a real life animal has been replaced by a special effect. Mind you, if you're curious, make sure you listen to the audio commentaries and watch the special features.

Once again, the genius that is Danny Elfman comes up trumps with a wonderfully haunting and dramatic score that really envelopes you and uses all of the available channels to their full potential. It's something you could simply listen to by itself, in fact a copy of the soundtrack score could well be a must for fans of his work. Dialogue wise, the Dolby Digital 448Kbps 5.1 soundtrack is a peach, with some clear and precise dialogue and good stereo steerage in the front channels. The rear channels are also kept occupied throughout with plenty of ambient effects - especially the firework display that had my cat diving for cover - and let's not forget that all wonderful enveloping Elfman score. All in all, it's an audio delight that puts many other blockbusters to shame.

Unlike some annoying DVDs, Paramount have had the forethought to include a preview reel, including titles for Barnyard, Flushed Away and Shrek 3 which actually informs the viewer that they can skip the trailers at any time by pressing the Title button on the remote. It's a simple but extremely welcome addition to any disc. Once the trailers are out of the way a nicely animated and scored menu appears. It's all rather simple, with clips from the film showing in the background, and whilst there's some menu transition effects, the all important Special Features menu is a rather boring static silent affair. Never the less, the contents are far more important that fancy menu effects and the collection on offer here will have you spinning more than a New Labour press release.

The main special feature on the disc would have to be the Audio Commentaries from director Gary Winick along with a separate yack track from producer Jordan Kerner and visual effects supervisor John Andrew Berton Jr. Whilst the children are not going to be interested in either track, both offer a wealth of information about the special effects and the production of the film. If anything, it's a total information over load, with hardly a break in the commentary to get your bearings and take in what is being said. Still, that doesn't mean it's a bad thing and I'm sure another listen will be in order - although I suspect you'll need to make sure that the children are safely tucked up into bed before giving the disc another spin.

Next up is the twenty-eight minute Making Some Movie featurette. With initial comments from director Gary Winick, producer Jordan Kerner, production designer Stuart Wurtzel about the reasons and ideas for creating the film, the featurette is packed with interviews with many of the cast members and contains plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, including their patient attempts to get the animals to perform in front of camera, location information, the delightful collection of animals along with touching on the CGI and animatronic effects involved in making the film. Naturally, E.B. White's original book is the focal point for many of the comments and the production crew and writers go to great lengths to put across how they tried to stick to the books principles. Finally, no featurette would be complete without a bit of all round back slapping - with the precocious Dakota Fanning coming in for much of the worthy praise.

Next up is the nine minute Some Voices featurette. In it, we discover that it's not just what is seen on the screen that matters because the voices to go with the animals is pretty impressive too (heaven knows how much of the budget was taken up with their salaries). With the likes of Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Redford, Oprah Winfrey and Cedric the Entertainer providing some of the voices, you soon realise just how big this film really is. With plenty of interviews with the majority of the cast members, plus some behind-the-scenes footages of the cast recording their lines, it's always good to put some faces to the voices. Only Robert Redford lets the side down by not appearing on screen for an interview - obviously he's too famous and way too important to be involved in the publicity.

Next up is the eleven minute Flacka's Pig Tale featurette. Hosted by Flacka, one of the real-life pigs featured in the film, this tongue-in-cheek and extremely child friendly featurette reveals some of the on-set antics involving the farm animals. With plenty of clips from the film, and some rather pointless educational snippets, there's some nice on-set photographs and additional footage of the animal trainers at work. Following on from Flacka is the five minute How Do They Do That? featurette. Although one of the shortest featurettes, it's one of the most interesting at it looks at the animals and their trainers. It's great to see just how much the trainers care for the animals and how they go about encouraging the animals to do a bit of acting - even if it can be a little time consuming.

Staying with the animal theme, the seven minute Where Are They Now? featurette looks just where the forty-two piglets ended up after filming - and fortunately not a butchers shop window was one of them. With cute little piglets not staying cute and little for long, the pigs were adopted by various people who could provide a loving and caring environment. With plenty of cute pictures of the pigs and a couple of visits, the now rather large porkers look to be as happy as pigs in mud. The five minute What Makes a Classic featurette looks at the book and the author of it as, without either, there'd be no film. With yet more clips from the film, and comments from producer Jordan Kerner, author Lucien L. Agosta and screen writers Karey Kirkpatrick and Susannah Grany, it reveals the ideas for the book from a man who ultimately felt guilty of the fate awaiting the barnyard of animals that surrounded him.

Next up is a bit of filler (if you can dare call it such!) with the A Day At The Fair slideshow followed by a Farm Photo Album. And if that's not enough information for you, there's a three minute Gag Reel of various people fluffing their lines, dropping things and having problems with the props. Then there's six Deleted Scenes, including an optional and, yet again, highly interesting audio commentary from director Gary Winick. Things are rounded off nicely with two music videos - Ordinary Miracle by Sarah MaLachlan and Make a Wish by Bob Carlise and Lucy Kane. Not a bad collection of extras for a children's film.

They say that you should never work with children or animals, and in the case of Charlotte's Web you have to cater with both. I just hope that the director, cast and the rest of the crew were extremely patient and prepared to put up with the many "accidents" that will have occurred on set with all of those farm yard animals. After all, there's only so much animatronics and the ever present CGI can do. Fortunately, the extras do appear to show this and there weren't any mishaps and any porkers heading off to market in disgrace.

People familiar with E.B. White's best-selling classic tale will be well aware of the ending. There may be some little tears, and even inquiring questions from little minds, but without giving the story away for those who have not seen or heard of it before, Charlotte's Web is certainly one of the better ways of showing that nothing lives forever - if only there was something as neat and simple to explain that other question. Still, I guess we've got MTV to help explain all of that, and to music too!

With a collection of extras for the younger audience, but just as many appealing to adults with those two audio commentaries and numerous featurettes, Charlotte's Web is a delightful and heart warming family film with an all important message too. Just remember to make sure you have a few hankies to hand, after all, you'll never know when a troublesome piece of grit will happen to blow into your eye. Highly recommended.

  • Feature Commentaries - Full-length commentary from the film’s director Gary Winick, plus a separate commentary by producer Jordan Kerner and visual effects supervisor John Andrew Berton, Jr.
  • How Do They Do That? - A fun-filled up close and personal look at the animal trainers who worked with the film’s ‘other’ cast members – the sheep, cows, geese, horses and, of course, pigs
  • Flacka’s Pig Tales - Hosted by Flacka, one of the real-life pigs featured in the film, this tongue-in-cheek featurette reveals some of the on-set antics involving the farm animals
  • A Day At The Fair - A colourful day at the fair documented by way of a fun menu-based photo gallery
  • Where Are They Now? - Check in with the film’s non-human stars and see what they’re doing now
  • What Makes A Classic? - Producer Jordan Kerner, plus screenwriters Susanna Grant and Karey Kirkpatrick discuss the fun and challenges of bringing this classic children’s book to life. This lively and engaging program also provides a biographical look at the book’s famed author and includes an interview with noted E.B. White scholar Lucien Agosta
  • Making Some Movie - Director Gary Winick, producer Jordan Kerner, along with the film’s crew and all-star cast provide audiences with a behind-the-scenes look into the production of this heart-warming film
  • Some Voices - This featurette invites viewers to meet the star-studded voice cast who brought Wilbur, Charlotte and the rest of the Zuckerman Farms gang to life
  • Deleted Scenes - Features never-befere-seen footage available with optional commentary by Gary Winick
  • Farm Photo Album
  • Music Videos - Includes three-time Grammy® Award winner Sarah McLachlan performing Ordinary Miracle and Make a Wish music video with Bob Carlisle and Lucy Kane
  • Gag Reel - Humorous goofs from the production
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