It sort of sucks that today's kids get a crapload
better Charlotte's Web movie than my generation did.
We got this cheap Hannah-Barbera pile of steaming shit with
herky jerky movement, static backgrounds, characters who looked
like outcasts from Scooby-Doo, Paul Lynde as a rat and way too
many awful, sappy songs. That 1973 movie was so damn bad that
even a six-year old getting free popcorn would walk out of it.
It represented the absolute minimum level of effort required
to make an animated movie, less even than my high-school magnum
opus The Lemons of Hell and its sequel The Lemons
of Hell II: The Juicening. The second one was slapped together
to take advantage of the fact that I got not only my parents
but my grandmother to watch the first one. It was only three
minutes long and still they walked out.
But you didn't come here to listen to me bitch
about my shitty past. Well, some of you didn't. You came to
compare your opinions on movies with mine and then tell me I'm
an asshole when we disagree. I know the sort of people who read
me are the kind who love the old New Yorker stalwart
E. B. White and his erudite New England ways. Charlotte's
Web was first a beloved children's novel before Hollywood
raped it and tore the entrails from its cavity during the Me
Decade. The people who made the new version call the book a
classic and I suppose it is. It was popular when I was a kid
and still is. Thousands of lazy grade-school teachers continue
to assign it because they don't feel like finding anything different.
And what makes something more classic than that?
The new Charlotte's Web hardly fucks
around with the E. B. White's source material. It is the tale
of runt pig Wilbur, who is saved from death at birth by a girl
and then allowed to live on her uncle's farm. Still, like in
everyone's life, death is always right around the corner. For
Wilbur, he may become the Christmas ham. For the rest of us,
we will almost all die after passing out drunk in a blizzard
and hitting or head on a partially snow-covered snow drift,
or sick with dysentery on the steps of an embassy in a foreign
country where nobody understands you, or by one day noticing
a little blood in your urine that, a week later, becomes a lot
of blood, and a week after that it's a constant stream and you
can't change your underwear fast enough to save your pants.
So, yeah, the movie is about the universal theme of death. Or
is it universal? George Noory had an interesting guest on just
last night who said he was immortal. George believed him, so
why shouldn't we?
I digress. Wilbur's gets his sentence commuted
a few times when spider Charlotte befriends him and spins webs
over his pen that declare him as "some pig", "terrific" and
"radiant." These stir up excitement and draw attention to the
little porker. Still, a date with the chopping block is looming
like the sense of dread that overwhelms a man who has secretly
spent his wife's pin money on a case of Hamm's and now she's
looking for it. At first, Charlotte's webs only distract people.
Finally, though, and only after winning a county fair prize,
the farmer and his family understand the value of Wilbur and
choose to spare his life.
At the same time, Charlotte is dropping babies
faster than a welfare mother and getting ready to shuffle off
her mortal coil. She leaves behind 514 kids to suck at society's
teat. Hmm, sounds an awful lot like a certain harelip I know.
Wilbur is saved, but sad that his friend has died, and then
thrilled that she left behind replacements. Something about
the circle of life is left unsaid. And thank God. That would
have made it treacly crap.
The novel is a pretty damn good story. It's
a kids' movie about death, and yet it never gets preachy or
corny. It trusts kids enough to let the come to their own conclusions.
Of course, the first time I read it, my conclusion was "I want
a talking pig, too." The new movie version is about as faithful
as you can be to E. B. White, right up until the end, when the
family changes its mind and goes ahead eats Wilbur. He was,
apparently, delicious. I somehow doubt that will bring much
comfort to the little ones in the audience, though. Regardless
of the surprise ending, the movie's biggest strength is its
The cast is studded with celebrity voices. They
didn't do a God damn thing for me. I seriously doubt any kid
sat there marveling that the spider had Julia Roberts' voice,
or the geese were sassy Oprah Winfrey and Cedric the Entertainer.
But, you know, Hollywood's number one job is keeping its stars
employed. So, here they. So is that weird little girl Dakota
Fanning. Luckily, we don't spend much time with her. most of
the time is spent with the well-done and unflashy computer-animated
animals. Mostly, the animals move and act like animals, except
they talk. But,that's totally believable. I had a huge argument
with a talking Canada goose just last night about NAFTA and
how it lets these fucking fowls shit all over the park with
Like its last movie, How to Eat Friend Worms,
Walden Media has carved out a niche making movies for kids that
really are for kids. None of this phony hip shit that is aimed
at parents, or lame-ass pop culture references that will make
the movie look old faster than a three-pack-a-day smoker. I
think it's damn great what they're doing. Treat kids with respect.
Hell, treat me with respect. And treat authors with respect.
And treat Canada geese with respect, because those fuckers bite.
Four Fingers for Charlotte's Web.
It's so good it nearly made me forget the crappy version they
gave me as a kid.