The first “chapter book” I read by myself as a kid was one I purchased myself too, out of a gift certificate I won for writing an “essay” about block parents (it was a paragraph, but that’s impressive for grade 1or 2). It took me two weeks to read it, a long time considering how quickly I devour novels these days. And it’s been one of my favorite books of all time. That book is “Charlotte’s Web”.
I was apprehensive to see the new movie. I mean, when you read a (good) book you develop a fondness of the characters you’ve envisioned. Wilbur and Charlotte are supposed to sound a certain way, the farm is supposed to look a certain way, Fern is supposed to look and act like the Fern you’ve seen in your head. I’ve seen a few too many movies based on books that have messed that up.
I’m definitely pleased to say that this movie was not one of them. It stays true to both the story and the spirit within. Fern is perfectly played by Dakota Fanning, down to the impressive vocabulary and sparkling innocence. Julia Roberts voices Charlotte, and does so with compassion and intelligence. The animation of the spider is more detailed than I imagined, but they make the spider look not-so-scary, good for the kids. Wilbur lives up to “terrific”, “radiant”, and “humble”. Though some of the other characters (particularly the goose) don’t get as much attention in the movie as in the book, they’re not neglected.
Most importantly, the movie “feels” like the book. It takes place sometime before modern conveniences became a major part of kid’s lives, in a place where life was simple. There were county fairs and barn swings and country doctors who cared. It’s nice to visit there, especially now that life has gotten more complicated than when I first escaped in the book (I’ll admit I re-read the book recently, while travelling). I cried a little near the end, as they prepare to leave the fair, just as I had to stop reading at that part of the book for a bit, to let it sink in what was happening. I don’t cry at movies, so that’s a big compliment.