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Charlotte's Web
Charlotte's Web

a review by Tom Condon, OP (St. Martin)

Fern is one of only two living beings who sees that Wilbur is a special animal as she raises him, the runt of the litter, into a terrific and radiant pig. As Wilbur moves into a new barn, he begins a second profound friendship with the most unlikely of creatures--a spider named Charlotte--and their bond inspires the animals around them to come together as a family.

Charlotte’s Web is a very sweet movie.  I feel like one of the few people who have never read the classic novel on which it is based.  But this beloved story about a pig named Wilbur, a spider named Charlotte, and a little girl named Fern has many good lessons for   both children and adults.  Among these lessons are the following: 

For Dominicans, the first lesson will be a reaffirmation of what we already know:  words are powerful.  Charlotte has the ability to spell out words in her web. This skill brings celebrity and affirmation to Wilbur, and keeps him from the butcher’s block.  Charlotte names the goodness that already exists in Wilbur.  By naming the goodness in Wilbur, those who were otherwise unable to see it have their eyes opened.  Doesn’t preaching the Good News accomplish the same thing?  As we heard from John’s Gospel on Christmas Day:  “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

In a related theme, Charlotte is able to see the grace in the everyday.  She befriends Wilbur in his loneliness, and affirms the goodness in him.  Charlotte doesn’t need to wait for miracles in order to see God’s grace all around her. 

Finally, Charlotte lives out a life of humble self sacrifice.  She lives and dies so that others may live.  And she does so without making a big deal about it.  She just does what she needs to do in a loving, quiet way.

The film is beautifully cast.  Among the human characters, Dakota Fanning is just right as Fern, the farm girl who rescues Wilbur from death.  Julia Roberts speaks beautifully as Charlotte.  The other famous actors (including John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, and even Robert Redford as a horse) give voice to their animals with charm and wit.

As nice as Charlotte’s Web is, with so many good points, I hesitate to voice a criticism:  I found it slow.  Maybe that has more to do with seeing it a few days after the lively Happy Feet or being in the middle of the hectic holiday season.  I don’t know how children, used to much faster-paced entertainment, will respond to it.  But, despite its slow pacing, Charlotte’s Web is certainly worth the effort for both children and adults, and contains great material for reflection and conversation.

Tom Condon, OP 

The film contains some mildly crude humor. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G -- general audiences. All ages admitted.

Charlotte is able to see the grace in the everyday.

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