You’d probably think that the reason I was watching this adaptation of “Charlotte’s Web” for the first time in eleven years had something to do with the new movie that came out around that time, and you’d be half-right.
But the reason I needed to sit down and watch it as soon as possible is really because I have just re-read the original, printed page Charlotte’s Web. And as I was reading, this movie came back to haunt me. The character’s voices were in my head as I read, and I even started remembering some of the songs. So, as you see, I am watching the Hanna-Barbera adaptation for the sake of my fragile little mind.
Charlotte’s Web is a beautiful, beautiful book. It is certainly something I’d assign my hypothetical students to read over the summer; the only right time to read it. It is at turns an incredibly moving poem of a novel and a harshly cynical satire.
And it’s also a good example of the fact that not every book has to be a movie, because the Hanna-Barbera adaptation is horrible.
I don’t mind film adaptations that deviate from the source material (says the fan of “Secret of N.I.M.H” and “Neverending Story” to cover her own butt), but when you’ve got something that EVERYBODY has read, you want to stay as true to the source as possible. Unfortunately, Hanna-Barbera chose to use the Rankin-Bass Return of the King Method of Novel Adaptation:
1) Take out a bunch of really random things from the book. Replace them with something else that comes out of f-ing nowhere.
For example, in “Web” they cut out Dr. Dorian. Dr. Dorian is pretty damned important as he is the first human character to truly understand Fern and Charlotte (and he is one of my favorite blindingly obvious author stand-in characters aside from Cantus in “Fraggle Rock” and -let’s come clean here- Gandalf). They replace him with a highly annoying gosling character, who contributes diddly and squat to the story aside from an incredibly strange song. Speaking of…
2) Introduce about a million billion songs for the hell of it. As much as you can help it, do not use them to forward the pacing of the story.
One long song for the heck of it is okay. Three short songs for the heck of it are okay. Ten or eleven songs that have no point and go on forever is maddening.
3) Most infuriating of all, lift as much dialogue from the original book as you possibly can. That way, nobody can accuse you of not being close to the book! Hahaha!!!
And I tell you, it’s bizarre the dialogue they leave in intact. The scene with the buttermilk has broken braver viewers than I…
So, again people, please read to your children.
The Best Parts:
3 minutes in – FORSHADOWED PIGLET CRUELTY!!!
6 minutes in – I haven’t got anything to say. So here is a piglet with a pancake on his head.
7 minutes in – This is the first song and while it’s supposed to be cute, it actually strikes me as a little creepy now. Maybe it’s because Fern is supposed to be eight or nine in the beginning of the story and then she gradually grows into a teenager, but here she sounds and looks exactly the same age throughout the movie.
10 minutes in – Awwwww… (NOTE: As much as I criticize this movie, it is very “awww”-inspiring.)
15 minutes in – THE ENDLESS, POINTLESS SONG FROM HELL!!! (This is the one I had in my head after reading the book; see “Poetry Corner” below.)
19 minutes in – Funny how Templeton is one of the only things from the book to come out note-perfect.
21 minutes in – This is a good example of how some of the things they leave in are really, really random. Listen close and you’ll learn that, as in the book, Wilbur lives in a pile of manure. You’d think that’d be the first thing to go.
22 minutes in – Another endless song! This one’s not as bad as the last one but note how the pacing grinds to a standstill with every song.
28 minutes in – Awwwww…
30 minutes in – And the hits just keep on leaving! This is the incredibly strange song I mentioned earlier (see “Poetry Corner” below).
35 minutes in – BIG ACTION SCENE!!! Note that this is pretty much the only Big Action Scene the book has got.
38 minutes in – I will give this song a free pass because it’s actually nice, and Charlotte really does sing that eerie opening bit in the book.
42 minutes in – This is by far the greatest message any book has ever given to it’s young audience: Human beings are almost painfully gullible.
44 minutes in – For the curious: Teerrrriiffiiccccccccc.
45 minutes in – Templeton recently saved Charlotte’s life. Watch what she does here. Holy W.T.F.?
55 minutes in – That’s a Song Sparrow, not a Lark! (Though the Oriole misidentified as a Nut-hatch in the “Charlie’s Angels” movie still wins.)
57 minutes in – The dreaded Buttermilk Bath Scene!!!
58 minutes in – The Fair Song! (See, NOW you remember this movie!)
1 hour, 5 minutes in – I don’t know what comment on first:
A. – This is where they start reprising the songs. Joy of joys.
B. – Who is this strange boy and what has he done with Henry Fussy? (This is especially odd because Henry does not arrive in the book until this very scene. I wonder if the character we’ve seen earlier was originally meant to be someone else entirely?)
C. – Even though it is wildly different from the book, Fern’s betrayal of Wilbur f-ing *hurts*.
1 hour, 11 minutes in – TEMPLETON’S BIG SCENE!!!
1 hour, 19 minutes in – Another endless, pointless song. I can’t decide if this is as bad as the “I Can Talk” song. (Though I like how Fern is the only human at this point who credits Charlotte.)
1 hour, 22 minutes in – The sad part.
1 hour, 28 minutes in – Awwwww, Templeton! *Squee!*
1 hour, 29 minutes in – “T’ill we find our PLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!!! / On the path un-WIIIIIIIN-ding!!!”
Classic Lines of Dialogue:
Weirdly enough, as I mentioned before, all the good lines are lifted from the book. Here’s some of what’s left:
“Root and grunt! Push and shove! There is room for all!” – Narrator
“Give your attitude an upward-tilt!” – Charlotte
“Somewhere in the warp and the woof is the truth of it.” – Narrator
“A Fair is a veritable smorgasbord, -orgasbord, -orgasbord!” – Templeton
“A joyous menagerie of entertainment!” – Trailer tagline
~*~ Poetry Corner ~*~
“I used to think the sum of 1 and 1 was 2 / but we add up to more, me and you!” – Fern
“Isn’t it GREEEAAAT / that I articulate? / Isn’t it GRAAAND / That you can understand! / I don’t ‘honk!’ / I don’t ‘eep!’ / I don’t even squeak or squawk! / When I wanna say a something / I open up and talk! / I can talk! I can talk talk talk! I can TAAAAAAALK!!!” – The Endless, Pointless Song From Hell
“You’ve got a beak, I’ve got a snout / but the both of us can sniff about! / You’ve got feathers, I’ve got skin / but they keep our insides in! / Cause we got LOTS IN COMMON where it REALLY COUNTS! / Where it REALLY COUNTS / we’ve got LARGE AMOUNTS!!!” – The Incredibly Strange Song
“Oh, wow! Look at him now! Zuckerman’s Famous Pig! / Golly! What do you see? The greatest hog in history! / Fine swine! Wish he was mine! What if he’s not so big? / He’s some terrific radiant humble thingamajig of a pig!!! / Some terrific radiant humble! Zuckerman’s Famous Pig!!!” ” – Another Endless, Pointless Song
Things I Learned from this Movie/Book/Whatever:
* – Given that the aspect ratio of this film hasn’t been changed (which is the least thing I ask of a DVD release) “Charlotte’s Web” has a nicer DVD than “Secret of N.I.M.H.”. Let that sink in.
(NOTE: “N.I.M.H.” fans had to wait years for a not-bare-bones DVD release. Thankfully, I don’t have this to complain about anymore.)
* – The Sherman brothers won an Oscar for “Mary Poppins” and wrote a lot of other memorable songs for Disney. They also wrote the songs for this movie. When they have an “off” day, everyone pays for it.
* – As evidenced by the web-spinning scene, Pigs = masochists.
* – As evidenced by the fair scene, Rats = gastronomical masochists.
* – As required by law, Dancing Chickens must appear in every animated musical number that takes place in a barnyard. (See also the Mandatory Crustacean Maraca Player in every animated musical number that takes place in any aquatic environment.)
* – Sheep are dicks. Plus the old Ram kind of looks like Mok.
* – Birds do not have skin (see Poetry Corner).
* – Small Mountain Lions often prowl country farms.
* – Life is grand if you are the only scavenger for miles and miles.
Things That Can Save Any Movie:
Cool Creatures? Yes. It’s hard to make a Ginormous Freaky Porch Spider cute and the animators managed to do it. (Note, “Ginormous Freaky Porch Spider” may not actually be the common name of Araneus cavaticus.)
Good Soundtrack? No.
Hot Guys? No.
Pretty Scenery? Eh. It has a very Thomas Kinkade blandness to it.
Nifty Animation/Special Effects/Illustrations? No.
Drinking Game Potential? Drink when Wilbur faints. Drink when Templeton bites him. Drink when the “camera” gets a nice shot of somebody’s butt. Drink when Mrs. Zuckerman says the word “Buttermilk”. Drink yourself into a stupor if you still have one of the songs in your head hours after watching this movie.
Head Movie Potential? Not really.
Danny with a medal of honor around his neck, and a nest of spider eggs in his mouth.
Paramount Pictures present a Hanna-Barbera/Sagittarius Film made in 1973. Story by Earl Hamner Jr, based upon the book by E.B. White (who is solely responsible for any and all good lines). Directed by Charles A, Nichols and Iwao Takamoto. Songs by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.
Debbie Reynolds, Henry Gibson, Paul Lynde, Rex Allen, and Don Messick.