It’s always a nice surprise when a children’s film comes around that truly tries to be a complex and challenging experience.  Far too often
these days, kids’ fare relies on clichéd physical humor (Look, the Koala in “The Wild” crushed his nuts on a fence!) or insipid pop songs.

“Charlotte’s Web” is the antithesis of the modern children’s film and is all the better for it.  It is a story that is innocent, but not naïve.  There
are strong themes of sacrifice and fairness that anyone familiar with the novel by E.B. White will be aware of.

Gary Winick, who also directed the underrated “13 Going on 30,” guides the story along with a simplicity that seems almost old fashioned,
yet is a perfect fit for this story.  

Winick should also be given credit for assembling an excellent cast of voice actors.  Even overplayed performers, such as Cedric The
Entertainer, do a wonderful job here.  Steve Buscemi as Templeton the Rat is pretty much a perfect call.

As for the non-animal characters, Dakota Fanning stars as Fern, the girl who rescues Wilbur the Pig and raises him.  Fanning is one of the
best child actors in the business and gives a good performance here.

The film as a whole does a great job of balancing a dramatic plot with enough comedy and action to keep things moving.

As the film moves toward its climax, one can’t help but feel for Wilbur and Charlotte the Spider, played by Julia Roberts.

Adding much to the emotion of the film is Danny Elfman’s score.  Although it certainly isn’t the most memorable of efforts, it does hit the
right dramatic notes at the right times.

My only complaint is the completely undeveloped relationship between Fern and some random boy (Seriously, I have no idea who he was)
seemed tacked on.  But it only accounts for about two minutes of screen time.

Otherwise, this is a great children’s film.  It’s a shame it hasn’t performed better at the box office, but it’s probably the best movie of its kind
from 2006.

“Babe” may still be the ultimate pig story, but “Charlotte’s Web” gives it a good run for its money.

* * * 1/2
(out of four)
Directed by: Gary Winick

Written by: Susannah Grant and Karey Kirkpatrick

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi,
John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey

Cinematography by: Seamus McGarvey

Music by: Danny Elfman

Released: December 15, 2006; 113 Minutes