Charlotte’s Web

Charlotte’s Web (1973)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Debbie Reynolds, Paul Lynde
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, ’Meet the Animals’ Game

’Stuart Little’ may be the epitome of computer animated mouse movies, but the animated version of ’Charlotte’s Web’ must be considered as the best film translation of E.B. White’s work. The film manages to retain the mood of the novel, while adding rousing musical numbers. ’Charlotte’s Web’ tells the story of a young pig named Wilbur (voiced by Henry Gibson). Wilbur was born the runt of the litter and is to be killed by the farmer, Mr. Arable, until his daughter, Fern, convinces Mr. Arable to spare Wilbur’s life. Fern raises Wilbur as a pet, and soon he is healthy and strong. When Wilbur grows too large to live with Fern, he is sold to a neighboring farmer, Mr. Zuckerman (voiced by Bob Holt).

Once on Zuckerman’s farm, Wilbur meets many fascinating barnyard animals. But, he also learns that humans eat pigs, and that he will be slaughtered as soon as he is nice and plump. As can be imagined, Wilbur is distraught by this news. His sorrow is felt by a spider named Charlotte (voiced by Debbie Reynolds), who pledges to save Wilbur’s life. Charlotte writes the words ’Some Pig’ in her web for all to see. When word of this reaches the farm, and then the world, Wilbur becomes famous. However, this new-found fame doesn’t guarantee that Wilbur won’t be killed. Charlotte, with help from a surly rat named Templeton (voiced by Paul Lynde) must keep creating messages to try and stall the inevitable. Along the way, Wilbur learns many lessons about friendship, life and death.

This version of ’Charlotte’s Web’ has its highs and lows, but it is ultimately a winner. While it does take some liberties with E.B. White’s original story, the film is able to maintain most of the plot and themes from the book. The characters are well-defined and the movie brings up many important points. The music by Richard and Robert Sherman is upbeat and memorable, although some of the songs do feel a bit forced. The animation in ’Charlotte’s Web’ is very hit-or-miss and varies in quality from highly-detailed to sub-Saturday morning cartoon. However, this inconsistency in the art does not detract from the emotional impact of the story. (The ending still gets me.)

’Charlotte’s Web’ is presented in an anamorphic widescreen and has been letterboxed at 1.85:1. The film suffers from some of the same problems as some of the Disney animated films, as the digital transfer has rendered every flaw and spec of dust on the individual cels visible. This means that most every scene has black dots on it. I can only imagine that avoiding this problem is nearly impossible, especially with older films. On the plus side, the image is crisp and clear, and most importantly, the colors look good. ’Charlotte’s Web’ uses a very natural color palette, so we get splendid reds, blues, and greens. The audio on the DVD is a Dolby Digital Mono track, which delivers intelligible dialogue and no hiss. Despite the fact that this is a mono track, the songs have a rich tone to them and there is a fair amount of bass response.

’Meet the Animals’ is a game that is offered as a supplement on the disc, which is aimed squarely at the little ones. In this game, you can simply learn facts about the various animals in the film, or you can try to identify each animal by the sound that it makes. Kudos to Paramount for choosing to release this family classic on DVD. To paraphrase Charlotte, it’s ’Some Movie!’