`Charlotte's Web' weaves pure delight

review A-

December 15, 2006|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

There's a golden minute that epitomizes everything that's gone wonderfully right with the new live-action movie version of E.B. White's 1952 novel, Charlotte's Web. "Go to sleep my little one," the girl Fern croons to her beloved runt pig, Wilbur, with words as plain and full of feeling as if she'd just thought them up and had to sing them out. "The sun has said goodbye for now. The moon shines on your beautiful face. ... " And then, in mid-stanza, as quickly as Fern pipes it up, the lullaby fades, the emotion of its melody and verse perfected by the tingling purity of Dakota Fanning's performance as Fern and the homey nocturnal light that blankets the girl and Wilbur.

Gary Winick's movie version of White's poetic piece of fiction, written by Susannah Grant (Ever After, Erin Brockovich) and Karey Kirkpatrick (Chicken Run), succeeds as popular entertainment because Winick and his collaborators leave enough space for the characters' feelings to expand - and for the audience to connect with and complete them. Winick understands White's story as an exquisite series of handoffs that starts with Fern saving Wilbur, the pipsqueak of the litter, from her father's ax, continues with Charlotte, a spider in Fern's Uncle Zuckerman's barnyard, saving Wilbur from being turned into a Christmas ham and culminates in a standoffish group of farm animals becoming an unlikely community. It's consistently touching and funny; also solid, decent and true.

Charlotte's Web (Paramount) Starring Dakota Fanning, Kevin Anderson, Essie Davis, with the voices of Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer, John Cleese, Robert Redford. Directed by Gary Winick. Rated G. Time 98 minutes.

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