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Charlotte's Web

Charlotte’s Web is some movie, and it’s plain terrific. It is an exhilarating and thoroughly earnest adaptation of E.B. White’s popular classic, and a magical adventure that will dazzle both those familiar with the story and those who might never even have heard of it. The movie beautifully combines subtle storytelling with stunning visuals, and never reaches past White’s incredible imagination. Therefore, Charlotte’s Web is a humble experience. The movie introduces us to Fern (Dakota Fanning), a young farm girl with a passion for animals who prevents her father from butchering a newborn spring pig. She names it Wilbur, takes good care of it as long as it needs to be fed, and at her dad’s request, finally moves it to her uncle’s barn across the street.

Separated from Fern during the day, but eager to make lively conversations, little Wilbur (voiced by Dominic Scott Kay) struggles hard to make friends with the other animals. But, when he meets a spider named Charlotte A. Cavatica (Julia Roberts), everything in the lonely world of the talkative pig changes. Charlotte is smart and remarkably courteous, and unlike the cows, geese and sheep, offers Wilbur what he so eagerly desires: an everlasting friendship. When Wilbur accidentally finds out that he might be slaughtered by the farmer and served as main dish on Christmas, his happy world is about to break down. But Charlotte promises to save him from death, and together, they figure out the perfect plan to convince the humans that Wilbur is too special to end up on a dinner table…

With the assistance of screenwriter Susannah Grant, director Gary Winick does a fabulous job at capturing the magic of White’s story. Close to the book, the message in the movie version is remarkably well depicted, and will inspire spectators young and old. By emphasizing on the unique connection between Charlotte and Wilbur, the movie suggests that you are treated just the same way you treat others; at least most of the time.

Charlotte’s Web has more inspiring thematic on board, and portrays this via its adorable characters and numerous memorable moments of exuberant fun and tragedy. It’s also a story about the power of friendship and the willingness to overcome loneliness, and carefully attempts to reduce the painful fear of death while generating hope among its audience.

Most of the laughs in Charlotte’s Web spring from hilarious interactions between the talking animals, which are voiced by an all-star cast. Next to Dominic Scott Kay as Wilbur, Steve Buscemi clearly stands out as Templeton, the thoroughly sarcastic and ravenous rat. Also contributing are Cedric the Entertainer and Oprah Winfrey as geese, Kathy Bates and Reba McEntire as cows and John Cleese as the hilarious leader of the sheep. However, none of the fun and eccentricity in this movie would impress as much if it weren’t for the groundbreaking visual effects. The filmmakers create remarkably sharp and gorgeous images by combining real animals with animatronics and CGI, which boosts the authenticity of Wilbur, his companions, and the movie as a whole.

Charlotte’s Web is one of those rare family adventures that comprise substantially more than just the usual dosage of brainless action, fancy colors and omnipresent morals. It tells a great story, radiates a lot of emotions, and pays tribute to one of the most beloved novels of all time by carefully recreating E.B. White’s boundless fantasy. Terrific! With a terrific movie comes terrific special features, or at least that’s how it should be. In this regard, the Charlotte’s Web DVD fulfills all the requirements for a wonderful home entertainment experience and is packed with exciting bonus material that appeals to the whole family.

“Making Some Movie” is a stunning 28-minute documentary with a focus on 10 of the most interesting aspects of the movie. Cast and crew discuss the thematic of E.B White’s classic and take their viewers behind the scenes, focusing on the development of the script, the combined use of animatronics, computer-generated effects and live action, and a bunch of obstacles that impeded the shooting. This in-depth featurette covers pretty much anything of interest around the production of Charlotte’s Web, and is undoubtedly the highlight of the special features section.

In “Some Voices,” an interesting eight-minute segment about the recording of the animal voices, actors Cedric the Entertainer, Kathy Bates, Reba McEntire, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Thomas Haden Church and Julia Roberts all discuss their individual characters and to what extent they love to share the experience in the recording studio. Director Gary Winick also explains the use of his very own rehearsal techniques when working with 10-year-old Dominic Scott Kay, the charming voice behind Wilbur the Pig.

The disc also comprises numerous specials produced exclusively for a younger audience. In the highly instructional 11-minute piece “Flacka’s Pig Tales,” one of the real-life pigs used in the movie takes its viewers behind the scenes and makes it very easy for them to understand and follow the basic production of a movie of this caliber. Besides a hilarious skit on the animal trainers and their efforts to get and keep the attention of the cows, geese and pigs featured in the film, the footage also includes a set of amusing fun facts.

“How Do They Do That?” is a five-minute supplement offering a more serious look at the complex and strenuous work of animal trainers. Experts in the field perform some astonishing techniques, give insightful explanations of their jargon and gadgets and describe the intensity of the relations they build up with the animals. This short featurette is remarkably effective because it’s an aspect every cinemagoer is interested in deciphering. Closely related to this piece is “Where Are They Now?,” a segment about what happened to the many pigs after the shooting. This short documentary may not be the most exciting one among this vast selection of extra material, but the featured interviews with some of the adopters will at least reassure the kids that every real animal used in the movie is being well treated in a new home.

A very touching bonus is the “What Makes a Classic?” segment, a conversation with screenwriter Susannah Grant and producer Jordan Kerner about E.B. White’s inspiration for the story of Charlotte’s Web. This five-minute piece pays honest tribute to the creator of this magical tale and emphasizes the role of a book nearly every child in North America grew up with.

Also featured on the disc are two video music videos. One is Sarah McLachlan’s “Ordinary Miracle,” followed by “Make a Wish” by Bob Carlisle and Lucy Kane. These two ballads are featured in the theatrical version, but serve as less compelling extras on the DVD. What’s really missing here is a documentary on the making of the glorious score composed by Danny Elfman.

Wrapping up the special features section are a three-minute Gag Reel (always fun to watch), and two mediocre picture galleries. “Farm Photo Album” presents some fancy photographs from the shooting, while “A Day At The Fair” comprises a few stills from the fair sequence in the movie.

Besides six deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by director Gary Winick, and three interactive DVD-ROM features, the Charlotte’s Web DVD also includes two feature-length commentaries. While Gary Winick’s focus rests mainly on the story, his direction and actors, producer Jordan Kerner and visual effects supervisor John Andrew Berton Jr. discuss the post-production process and the roles of animatronics and CGI effects in the movie.

Charlotte’s Web makes every DVD fanatic’s dreams come true. Not only does the disc offer the magical family adventure with an astounding picture and sound quality, but it also comprises an enormous set of exhilarating special features that take the magic of the movie one step further doubles the pleasure of viewing it at home. A terrific DVD indeed!