Southern Man

Friday, December 29, 2006

Movie Review - Charlotte's Web

There are some films that really shouldn't be remade. Part of that may be simply because of the fondness one might have for the original, or because of their particular charm, or even because they were perfect the first time. For example, Southern Man grew up on the original 1969 rendition of The Italian Job and the 2003 remake, as slick as it may be, simply holds no charm for him. 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder, in spite of its significant departures from Roald Dahl's book, has a quirky charm that keeps it in constant rotation in the family VCR while Johnnie Depp's more accurate (if equally quirky) version gathers dust. And there is simply no way to improve on How The Grinch Stole Christmas as narrated by the legendary Boris Karloff. Southern Man feels rather the same way about the 1973 animated version of Charlotte's Web.

The book Charlotte's Web is a family favorite; it sits in a place of honor in the living room alongside the other two children's books by E. B. White (Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan) and a collection of Beatrix Potter picture books. Southern Man reads a chapter from at least one of these aloud to his baby daughter almost every time she visits. Like Wilder's Willy Wonka, the older film has a certain charm. It makes effective use of White's clean, simple dialog and the animation style is much like Garth Williams' original artwork. And casting Paul Lynde (who Southern Man knew only from his lengthy tenure on Hollywood Squares) as the voice of Templeton the Rat was an act of genius. It isn't perfect in the way that Karloff's Grinch is perfect, but it's close. Satisfyingly close.

So it was with a touch of trepidation that Southern Man took his baby girl to see the newest version of Charlotte's Web. Southern Man is seldom impressed with live-action animal movies anyway (Babe being a notable exception) but knowing that the talented Dakota Fanning played the part of Fern and that Julia Roberts gave voice to Charlotte offered some hope. And he was pleased to find that the film was entertaining and earnest without being overly dramatic or silly. However, the live acting was a bit strained in places and the animal voicing fared little better. While Dominic Kay is a convincing Wilbur, this just isn't the story for John Cleese's particular brand of humor. Steve Buscemi does his best with the lines he had, but sorry - Lynde's Templeton still rules the farmyard. And since this is a product of 21st century Hollywood there was more than one gratuitous flatulence joke. There were monents when one wondered what E. B. was doing in his grave. Southern Man supposes that the kindest thing he can say is that it didn't screw up the story too badly. It's worth taking your kids to see, once. But, like Depp's Chocolate Factory, this DVD will gather dust while the older classic continues to charm.


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