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Charlotte's WebCharlotte's Web on DVD

This is some movie!

Wilbur is a pig, a runt spring pig who would traditionally never see another spring. But Fern, a precocious little girl played wonderfully by Dakota Fanning, takes a liking to the porcine pup and decides she's going to save him. This means taking Wilbur (voiced by Dominic Scott Kay) to live at her uncle's farm nearby – though it turns out that's merely postponing Wilbur's inevitable day of reckoning.

But at least he's in a barn with other farm animals – and shortly after he arrives there our film shifts its focus from Fern's point of view to Wilbur's, a neat achievement that's done flawlessly.

And this is where the movie magic begins as this "live action" film treats us to a bevy of barnyard critters voiced by some terrific talent. Most of the action takes place in and around the barn as little Wilbur captivates the critters and makes fast friends with another outcast, the spider called Charlotte (Julia Roberts).

With the barnyard animals mostly as a peanut gallery and offering their comments and insights, Charlotte comes up with a plan to save Wilbur: publicize him and make him a tourist attraction. She does this by spinning (perhaps the first example of what's common practice in politics and media now), weaving into her web attention-getting slogans that bring people from miles around to wonder at the marvelous pig. Why they don't wonder as much about the spider who actually does the work we aren't sure, but such is life in a fictional universe.

But public opinion is fickle, and Charlotte has to keep upping the web-ante to keep Wilbur in the public consciousness, which she does with ever-newer web billboards. Eventually, Wilbur is entered in the local fair where his celebrity brings him even more fame.

This short description doesn't really do the story justice. It's far more than just a nifty tale of animal and animal/human friendship, it's funny and charming and uplifting at the same time, and with special effects that will make you believe these animals can talk to each other and come together as a big, happy family.

The supporting voice cast is another highlight of the film. Roberts does a terrific job at voicing Charlotte, but mention should be made of some other barnyard cast members as well, including Steve Buscemi as Templeton the rat and John Cleese as the sheep patriarch (who also baahs some great sheep humor). Oprah Winfrey and Cedric the Entertainer play the geese, Reba McEntire and Kathy Bates are cows, Robert Redford is the horse – and keep your ears and eyes peeled for some other cool cameos.

This is one of those movies that anyone can enjoy. We didn't have ankle biters around when we screened it, but wish we had because they would have been as enthralled as we were. And we also laughed out loud more than once.

The DVD is radiant. The picture quality (we received the anamorphic widescreen version, though it's also sold separately as a Pan&Scan version) is first rate, with wonderful color and great depth.

Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it's also top drawer. We missed the inclusion of a dts track, but what can you do?

You get plenty of extras, too. First up is a running commentary featuring director Gary Winick, Producer Jordan Kerner and visual effects supervisor John Andrew Berton, Jr.  Then there's "Making Some Movie," a half hour feature on the film's genesis and production, and another featurette on the celebrity voices.

But there's more, including:

  • Flacka’s Pig Tails
  • How Do They Do That?
  • What Makes a Classic?
  • Where Are They Now?
  • Music Video: "Ordinary Miracle" by Sarah McLachlan
  • A Day At The Fair
  • Gag Reel
  • Deleted Scenes with optional commentary
  • and some DVD ROM material.
  A wonderful, wonderful movie given an appropriate treatment for the DVD.

Charlotte's Web, from Paramount Home Entertainment
96 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Dakota Fanning, Julia Roberts
written by Susannah Grant and Karey Kirkpatrick, directed by Gary Winnick

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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