Reviews: Charlottes Web

Radiant and Humble (1973 film)

Although apparently counted as a literary children's classic, I'd never even heard of Charlotte's Web before I decided to check this film out, because I was bored and needed context for a True Facts joke. I was pleasantly surprised to find one what might be one of the best '70s animated films not done by Disney. In fact, sometimes it manages to tap into that wondrous timeless feeling that the D themselves lost sight of a little bit, somewhere along the way.

From rather early on, it's obvious this is one of those films that don't sugar-coat the sometimes cruel facts of life to kids, both within the film and out. It's got a fanciful plot that doesn't really make too much sense if you're not a kid, but I like that. While the importance of keeping a child's innocence from harm cannot be overstated, when handled in such a graceful manner, they can handle it. Hell, I think we often underestimate what kids can handle altogether. I don't think I've ever come across a so-called "children's production" that touches on the inevitability of death, yet highlights the importance of living, in quite such a disarmingly beautiful way.

As for other aspects, I was sort of a little shocked to find the animation to be quite good and expressive, considering this is Hanna-"Cut every goddamn corner ever"-Barbera we're talking about here. I guess when you save money on everything else, you can afford to make a little effort when you bother to. The Sherman Brothers' songs are a little hit and miss; not their most inspired effort, clearly derivative of past efforts, and some songs just feel like padding. But, the more melancholy songs deserve their place in the upper echelon of their work.

Also, the voice work is of the highest order. Henry Gibson does a great job of tempering the protagonist pig's meek nature with his inherent courage and strength. Debbie Reynolds just has that magical, pure and mysterious quality to her voice that you just don't find much anymore; perfect for the eponymous arachnid. And, like he does, Paul Lynde tends to steal the show with his sarcastic rat's refreshingly misanthropic counter-balance.

In the end, while not always the most engaging work out there, its affecting heart and overall terrifically humble radiance, makes it pretty much goddamn unforgettable.