Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Charlotte's Web (Gary Winick, 2006)

It wasn't as bad as I thought, better than the Hanna-Barbera version, but not the great breakthrough film people would like you to think it is. The Dakota Fanning droid performs charm as professionally as a 40 dollar hooker does a blowjob, and you have the usual celebrity voiceovers--Robert Redford, Whoopi Goldberg, Thomas Haden Church, and the like to provide vocal glitter (yeah right--they're about as distinguishable as a flock of baaing sheep); maybe the two that I remember best are John Cleese as an old ram with crack comic timing and Steve Buscemi as an overfed rodent, doing that 'cynic redeemed' bit with just enough bite to make it fairly interesting.

Julia Roberts does well as Charlotte--it's the warmest, most believable performance of her career, and I think it's partly because she's no spring chicken anymore, partly because we're not using her face (which always reminded me of Eric Roberts at his most angularly psychotic, anyway), partly (and most importantly, I think) because she's playing a character from E.B. White's novel.

Maybe that's the best one can say of the movie--that it's a passable adaptation of White, and unlike what's been said elsewhere, I don't think that's necessarily high praise. The finest parts evoke a literate, classically proportioned picture, with a regard for words and what they mean (not just to a crowd of onlookers--you could say the book was one of the earliest to recognize the power of the soundbyte--but to specific people who hear them).

Unfortunately it also indulges in what looks like CGI-generated slapstick (and does so far too often), and when it does, it's just another kiddie yuckfest designed to keep the ten-and-under crowd from yowling or falling asleep. The pratfalls demean the delicately delineated relationships in the barn sequences, and the goopy music, at times employing a hallelujah chorus, poured over almost every dramatic high point ensures that the emotionally diabetic will not come out of the theater alive (I'm glad Danny Elfman has stopped repeating himself; I just wish he'd not repeat himself with more distinction). Director Gary Winick (who did the toothless 13 Going on 30) directs traffic; only perhaps in one scene, Charlotte's adieu, does he show any awareness of what the words "dramatic power" might means (and even then it's topped with plenty of Elfman's melodic syrup).


I keep thinking of what George Miller could and has done with this material (this is no Babe: Pig in the City), and how he could and has hit it out of the park, not once but twice (the second time being for my money the definitive film about talking pigs).

It's from the same producers who did the latest version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and while I appreciate their attempt to try get some real family entertainment back on the big screen, I don't quite appreciate the glitzy, showbizzy way they're trying to do it, either with White or the C.S. Lewis (the latter of which I prefer, despite all the reservations I've expressed, over Peter Jackson's hobbit movies; not for the undistinguished directing, but for the middling fidelity to the source material--a superior fantasy, I think, to anything Tolkien has done ).

7 comments:

Paul Martin said...

I agree that this film is OK for the under tens. I took my six year old who loved it. He even cried when Charlotte died (hope I'm not giving anything away!).

Charlotte's Web certainly does recall Babe, though the latter was a more accomplished film. The main problem I had with CW was the over-the-top music score. It gave a really saccharine ambience that detracted from the unfolding of the plot. It was like being led from behind with a firm shove at every step.

The only voice I recognised was Buscemi (I didn't read up before hand on whose voices were in it), and I don't really see the need for celebrity voices. They could have been anyone.

Noel Vera said...
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Noel Vera said...
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Noel Vera said...

My favorite was Miller's Babe: Pig in the City, which he directed himself. That was amazing--threw sentimentality completely out the window, and came up with something more ambiguous, and bracing: the unstated pathos of animals lost in a concrete jungle, and of the need for home and humanity (or animality, if you like) filtered through a stylized but unmistakably comic sensibility--more Keaton than Chaplin, in a way. Owes little or nothing to Charlotte's Web, which may be best experienced as a book, I suppose...

Noel Vera said...
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Paul Martin said...

I feel a bit unqualified to make a serious comparison because it's been so long since I saw either the original or the sequel. All I remember is that the original had a freshness and naivete that the sequel lacked. The sequel was darker, but seemed a bit contrived for me.

Noel Vera said...

I think you should look at the sequel again. The first had freshness, sure, bu the second had a real visual style--dark, epic and (strangely enough) with a delicately loony sense of humor (think of that dog on wheels when he has his car accident, and what happens right after). It's all about the filmmaking for me.

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