Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Some Pig-ture

Though I intended to attend a preview of "Night in the Museum" in IMAX, the crowd was just so incredibly large and chaotic, with an average age of about 8 years old, I decided to wander down the hall for something else.

"Charlotte's Web" (dir. Gary Winick, US, 2006, 97 mins.) proved to be a charming (not cute! I HATE Cute!) and well produced version of the classic E.B. White story. Visually, it may owe a lot to the "Babe" films, however the web spinning sequences were beautifully done. Templeton's (the rat) sequences were also wonderfully executed. The cinematography, employing various second units for individual sequences, maintained a visual continuity and sense of realism, without turning the farms into fantasy lands. Danny Elfman's score is enchanting as always.

As far as the casting is concerned, Dakota Fanning is one of the most intelligent young actresses available, and she makes the most of her role, which is admittedly secondary to the animals. However, director Winick allows her subtle moments of growing up, which plays into the story's tale of passage. The vocal talent is loaded with stunt casting, for no obvious reason with only a couple of exceptions. Steve Buscemi is fabulous as Templeton (though I can still hear Paul Lynde from the 1973 animated version), and Thomas Haden Church and Andre' Benjamin are a hoot as a pair of crows, as is the inimitable John Cleese as the lead sheep. The rest of the cast is fairly non-descript, considering the names. Julia Roberts attempts to voice Charlotte with such realism that she is dull. The casting of Oprah Winfrey, Kathy Bates, Robert Redford, Reba McIntire and Cedric the Entertainer as various other animals in the barn (and Sam Shepherd as the narrator?!) were vocally unrecognizable and didn't add anything to the characterizations beyond what we visually saw. I just did not understand why this cast was brought together, unless it was a matter of finding funding.

The editing is well paced and the continuity is fairly satisfactory, though there is some confusion as to how big Wilbur the pig is at times, as I am sure they must have used a dozen of them. The digital effects are fairly seamless and there is a point where I BELIEVED that Templeton was actually doing stunts! (I'm even referring to him as a 'real' character, as I could not discern between the rat and the CGI-Rat.) The finale is quite lovely, though the film attempts to extend the emotional climax of the original story by maintaining a melodramatic arc during the spider hatching and release scene, instead of allowing the mature resolution that the book has. But that is a minor quibble, considering the outstanding visuals during that moment.

Overall, I was actually quite pleasantly surprised! The face of Charlotte herself might be disconcerting to really young kids, however it is appropriate within the context of the story and film. Perhaps that is why Julia Roberts' vocalization is so dry, as to down play the scare factor of the visual? Well, I'm TRYING to give her a break here...!


Maxxxxx said...

re "Charlotte's Web": "Sweet, sweet eye juice!"

JimmyD said...

And there was a pirate! Not a swishy pirate, but an evil pirate. He was taken care of quite nicely.

Jay, aka The Angry Little Man said...

A "pirate"? OH!!! You mean the guy videotaping the FILM from his seat!! Bad, bad man...