There is a new film version of the classic children's story, Charlotte's Web, just out this week. Our family went to see it yesterday. My kids and I had become very attached to the animated version from the late 60s with the voice of Debbie Reynold as Charlotte and Paul Lynde as Templeton. So I wasn't sure whether I'd accept this new remake. For anyone who wants to revisit their old friend, it was a wonderful adaptation.
Yes, a few devices were added to White's classic. Some bovine methane jokes. (We need to keep the older siblings laughing.) A couple of bumbling crows who are slow to learn were quite funny. The arachnaphobic horse--Robert Redford's vocal talent here--was also a welcome addition. None of these things detracted or denigrated the original White story.
This newest version is set in the late 50s--not long after White's classic book was first published. From costumes, to the farm and farmhouse, to the county fair amusement rides, it was a great treat for the eyes as well as the ears. It was Maine, much like E.B. White must have envisioned it as he was writing his classic tale.
But nothing that was done visually can compare to the original work that White gave us on the page. I have never read an autobiography of White and as many times as I'd read the book or seen the movie it was not until this version that it struck me--had White his own Charlotte at some point in his life?
The film, narrated by Sam Shephard, thankfully ended with the same text that closes the book:
"Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charolotte was both."