Charlotte's Web (G)
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This movie is from 1973, but I probably first saw it on TV in the late 80s or early 90s. It's based on a classic children's book from 1952, which I've never read. Some people who've read the book (as well as the author himself) may find the movie disappointing for being a bit too "Disneyfied" (though it was actually made by Hanna-Barbera), but I can't really speak to that. I can understand how it may seem less serious than the book, given that there are a bunch of catchy songs, and whatnot. But still, I did think it was more serious than most animated movies. It has a fairly serious theme, in that it openly acknowledges the whole circle of life thing- which of course includes the inevitability of death. And certainly the ending is bittersweet. I do kind of have a problem with a story that shows us animals with a human level of sentience, while not shying away from the fact that humans completely dominate and even eat animals. I mean, it just seems like a mixed message, to me. I'm no vegetarian, though I have nothing against vegetarianism (which is, btw, not a theme of the movie at all), but it seems to me that if an animal is capable of understanding that it's going to be killed and eaten, it cannot possibly be acceptable to actually do that to the animal. In the real world, I certainly don't believe any animals possess that kind of understanding, as they do in the movie. And even though the central character, a pig named Wilbur, is ultimately spared this fate... it's not like any other pigs are going to be spared. But I apologize if I'm overanalyzing.
Anyway... this one pig is the runt of the litter, and the owner, John Arable, is going to kill it. His daughter, Fern, is horrified by this, so he lets her raise it herself. (I'm pretty sure he was expecting her to fail.) But she names the pig Wilbur, and he grows up fairly well. Then Wilbur gets sold to another farm, owned by Fern's uncle, Homer Zuckerman. Wilbur misses Fern, though she does come to visit as often as she can. Meanwhile, he gets acquainted with other barnyard animals, including a goose, some sheep, and a rat named Templeton, among others. Most of these animals aren't particularly important to the plot, but a ram tells Wilbur that he's eventually going to be killed and eaten. And of course, Wilbur doesn't want to die. But he's soon befriended by a spider named Charlotte, who promises to come up with a plan to save his life. (Wilbur also befriends a gosling named Jeffrey, though he's not all that important, and at some point we just don't see him anymore, which seemed kind of odd.) Templeton helps somewhat with Charlotte's plans, though only because she keeps reminding him that if Wilbur dies, he won't be fed anymore, which means there'd be no more food for Templeton to share in.
So, here's the plan: Charlotte spins the words "SOME PIG" into her web. The humans think this is some kind of miracle, and Wilbur soon becomes famous. (Homer's wife is the only one who, even briefly, thinks it means the spider is the special one, rather than the pig.) Subsequently, Charlotte spins other words into the web, which continues Wilbur's rise to fame. And her plan succeeds. And yet... well, I'll just remind you that all creatures have to die sooner or later. Circle of life, remember? It's not just people who are responsible for death, but nature itself. I think it's good that the story doesn't try to shield kids from this simple fact, and it even makes death, as part of the whole cycle, seem... well, not really good in and of itself, but still... it makes the circle of life and death seem like a beautiful thing, and obviates the fact that the temporary nature of life makes what time we have special. (Personally I think the song "Mother Earth and Father Time" does this quite movingly, which I feel negates any criticism about spoiling the book's story by adding songs.)
Um, so what else can I say? There were things I didn't love about the movie. It's kind of odd that Fern understands the animals, even if no one else does. And she never actually talks with them. And I really don't think Wilbur himself is nearly as special as Charlotte. (She's pretty awesome, which is something I don't usually say about spiders.) It's kind of ironic that she's not just helping save her friend's life for his sake, but also to give her own life greater meaning. I mean, that clearly implies that pigs are more important that spiders, which just confuses me. Mostly it bugs me because within the context of the story, Charlotte is clearly a better character than Wilbur. But also because... it's like... I dunno, it just seems to me that either only humans should matter, or else all creatures should matter equally. The only reason I can see for Wilbur to be more important is that pigs potentially have a longer lifespan, but that doesn't really speak to inherent value of a life, which kind of undermines the whole theme of life being special because it's so short. Or whatever. Once again, I'm overanalyzing. It really is a poignant, beautiful story, in spite of a few logical quibbles. And, um... I liked the songs. Some of them were just fun and silly, but others were deeper. And I guess that's all I can think to say.
In 2003, there was an inferior animated sequel, and in 2006 there was a superior live-action remake.