E.B. White's classic tale gets a Babe-like makeover in Charlotte's Web, a delightful and well-made film that is sure to become a family classic. Directed by Gary Winick (13 Going on 30), the new version eschews the musical numbers of the 1973 cartoon and mixes CGI with live-action animals. Dakota Fanning brings the right amount of chutzpah to Fern, the young farm girl who rescues a runt, Wilbur, from death and visits him every day at her Uncle Homer's farm. But it's Wilbur's friendship with Charlotte the spider (voiced by Julia Roberts) that ultimately saves him from the "smoke house" (a kid-friendly alternative term to the slaughterhouse), for Charlotte's talent for weaving praiseworthy words about Wilbur into her web turns the Zuckerman farm into a tourist attraction. The more tragic elements of the book are handled sensitively by Winick, working from a script by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), and Roberts' soothing, maternal voice (who knew it would work so well?) makes it all go down easy. It turns out to be just one of many perfect celebrity voice-casting choices, for the farm animals, voiced by an all-star cast including Oprah Winfrey (the goose), Robert Redford (the horse), Steve Buscemi (Templeton the rat), and John Cleese (the sheep), lend plenty of sharp humour. But it's two corn-hungry crows, voiced by Thomas Haden Church (Sideways) and OutKast's Andre "3000" Benjamin who steal the show. -- Ellen A. Kim
Featuring the cutest ensemble cast of barnyard animals since BABE, CHARLOTTES WEB tells the story of one little piggys quest to stay alive... and off the menu. His first saviour comes in the form of spirited farm girl Fern (Dakota Fanning), who rescues Wilbur--the runt of his litter--from her father's axe. But as the swine grows up, he faces the stark prospect of ending up a packet of pork scratchings. Luckily, his arachnid pal Charlotte (voiced by Julia Roberts) is on hand to convince Wilbur's guardians that he is no ordinary pig, by spinning fancy, slogan-filled webs above his pen. The resulting hubbub saves his bacon once again and reveals the importance of friendship and loyalty. Additionally, in scene after poignant scene, Wilbur learns about the nature of miracles, the seasons of life and death, and the inherent worth of even the runtiest of us. Gary Winick (THIRTEEN GOING ON 30) had a lot to live up to in remaking a beloved children's movie, itself based on the classic novel by E. B. White, but this 2006 live-action version more than fulfils its promise. With its droll '50s-inspired art direction and low-key, earnest performances, Winick maintains the deeply moral (though not moralistic) themes of the original novel, injecting some mild humour and scenes of peril and adventure.