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  Charlotte's Web Fine Swine
Year: 1973
Director: Charles A. Nichols, Iwao Takamoto
Stars: Debbie Reynolds, Paul Lynde, Henry Gibson, Rex Allen, Martha Scott, Dave Madden, Danny Bonaduce, Don Messick, Herb Vigran, Agnes Moorehead, Pamelyn Ferdin, Joan Gerber, Bob Holt, John Stephenson, William B. White
Genre: Musical, Drama, Animated, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: When it was spring again, the piglets had been born but as often there was one smaller and weaker than the others, the runt of the litter which the farmer decided to put to the axe since it did not look as if it would survive. However, his young daughter Fern (voiced by Pamelyn Ferdin) was horrified at the thought and pleaded with him to spare its life so much that to teach her a lesson in farmyard animals the farmer told her to raise the creature herself. She was delighted at the prospect of a new pet, and dedicated herself to keeping Wilbur (Henry Gibson), as she called the piglet, alive and well - but he would not be able to hang around her father's farm forever.

It's funny how certain films can feel more Christmassy than others, despite not featuring the season to a greater extent. Charlotte's Web, a story based around the changing of the seasons, ends up in winter and Yuletide is mentioned in the song near the end, though only briefly, but as a whole this came across as something more appropriate for that time of year no matter that snow is seen falling for a short time. The book had been, and indeed still is, a classic of children's literature, a clear-eyed but not uncompassionate aim at teaching the realities of the cycle of nature from birth to death across all sorts of species, but White was reluctant to have it filmed.

He believed any filmmaker was going to tone down the harsher truths he was keen to convey in favour of the beauty he was equally interested in depicting, resulting in a sentimental and shallow experience that betrayed his source. Though you could say that Hanna-Barbera, who wound up making this as a cartoon, were sincere in wanting to make the best of the material, but also that it was never going to be a work that eclipsed the original, and sure enough, White detested the completed animation feeling they had utterly missed the point of his creation. What he would have thought of the flashy remake is probably best not considered - he passed away in 1985.

However, if you're a kid who will watch just about anything animated short of difficult Eastern European abstracts, then you would not be too bothered, or even aware, of White's issues with what a studio best known for television cartoons made of his efforts. And so it is that for a while this became one of Hanna-Barbera's best loved productions, despite the fact they used little more to bring Wilbur and friends to life than they had for Fred Flintstone or Scooby-Doo aside from snaring the participation of songwriters extraordinaire the Sherman Brothers who contributed an intermittently lively, but overall subdued and reflective score of tunes. Also, the other ace up their sleeve was the warm tones of Debbie Reynolds, who voiced the titular spider Charlotte, Wilbur's new best pal.

The plot, if you were not aware, saw Wilbur moving to another farm where he is happy enough until he realises he will be heading for the slaughterhouse, and Charlotte endeavours to prevent what is an inevitability for almost every pig reared on a farm. If you argued that kids who ate meat should be aware of where that meat comes from, should not be mollycoddled and told the origins of what was on their plate, fair enough, but it wouldn't make for much of a story, therefore we had all that business with the spider spinning webs that featured writing for the humans to read and be impressed with Wilbur. There was altogether too much crying here, though Paul Lynde had fun as a sneaky rat Templeton, but the most disappointing element was how flat the whole thing looked, with drab colours and unengaging characters designs and movement (surprising when Scooby-Doo designer Iwao Takamoto was a co-director). Still, it would be fine for the less critical youngsters who appreciated the obvious sincerity - that was inarguable.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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