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
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.