When Fern Arable (Dakota Fanning) learns that her father, John (Kevin Anderson), plans to kill the runt of a litter of newborn pigs, she successfully begs him to spare the piglet's life. The farmer gives the tiny pig to Fern, who names him Wilbur (voiced by Dominic Scott Kay), and raises him as her pet. To Fern's regret, when Wilbur grows into an adult pig, Fern is forced to take him to her uncle Homer Zuckerman (Gary Basaraba)'s farm, where he is to be prepared as dinner in due time.
Charlotte (Julia Roberts), a spider, lives in the space above Wilbur's sty in the Zuckermans' barn; she befriends Wilbur and decides to help prevent him from being eaten. With the help of the other barn animals, including a gluttonous rat named Templeton (Steve Buscemi), she convinces the Zuckerman family that Wilbur is actually quite special, by spelling out descriptions of him in her web: "Some pig", "Terrific", "Radiant" and "Humble". Charlotte gives her full name as "Charlotte A. Cavatica", revealing her as a barn spider, an orb-weaving species (Araneus cavaticus).
The farm family, Wilbur, Charlotte, and Templeton go to a fair, where Wilbur is entered in a contest. While there, Charlotte produces an egg sac. She cannot return home with Wilbur because she is dying. Wilbur tearfully says goodbye to Charlotte but manages to take her egg sac home, where hundreds of offspring emerge. Most of the young spiders soon leave, but three, named Joy, Aranea, and Nellie, stay and become Wilbur's friends.
A video game based on this film specifically was released for the PC, GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS.
Tropes seen in this version include:
- Adaptation Expansion: The film doesn't add any new plot threads, but does flesh out the other barnyard animals, giving them names – Gussy and Golly the Geese, Samuel the Sheep, Bitsy and Betsy the Cows, Ike the Horse, and Elwyn and Brooks the Crows – and emphasizes their growth from individualistic Jerks with Hearts of Gold to a kinder, happier community as they become friends with Wilbur and Charlotte.
- Adaptational Early Appearance: Invoked. Unlike the book and animated movie where Fern first sees Wilbur in daylight, this film alters this much earlier so she meets him before dawn.
- Adaptational Heroism: Templeton is more of a likable Jerk with a Heart of Gold, especially given that he's voiced by Steve Buscemi, whereas in the original book he is utterly self-centered and amoral.
- Adaptation Dye-Job: Charlotte is brown instead of grey like in the book; however, she turns grey in the last third as she approaches the end of her life.
- Adapted Out: The old ram who warns Wilbur he's going to be slaughtered. He was replaced with Samuel for the film, while his mentioned role was given to Templeton.
- Animals Lack Attributes: This is the case with every male animal, but it is particularly notable with Templeton as in real life testicles are quite obvious in male rats.
- Animal Talk: Animals can talk to each other, but not to humans (except Fern).
- Annoying Younger Sibling: Fern's brother Avery is rather obnoxious and mischievous but still means well. He tries to catch Charlotte for his collection only to be stopped by the rotten egg breaking. note
- Armor-Piercing Question: While stopping her father from killing Wilbur, Fern asked him would he do the same thing to her if she was a runt.
- Artistic License – Biology: Charlotte is modeled with the head moving independently from thorax. Real spiders have fused cephalothorax.
- Award-Bait Song: Ordinary Miracle by Sarah McLachlan.
- Babies Ever After: Although Charlotte dies and most of her offspring leave the farm, three of her daughters remain. And found a whole dynasty of barn spiders.
- Balloon Belly: Templeton, just like in the book sports one after the fair.
- Bittersweet Ending: While Wilbur lives, Charlotte dies soon after the fair. Also, Fern doesn't visit Wilbur as often as she used to as she grows up and starts dating Henry Fussy. Yet Charlotte's children live on, and Wilbur is happy to while away the years in the barn with generations of Charlotte's descendants.
- Brainy Pig: Discussed. Gussy the goose says that pigs are smart, but her husband Golly says that they aren't. Later, when Wilbur tricks the farmers, Golly says, "I told you pigs are smart". Wilbur himself is not depicted as either particularly more or less intelligent than the other animals.
- Bribed With Food: Usually the only way to get Templeton to agree to anything.
- Brutal Honesty: A major theme of both the book and its adaptations, with Charlotte, who says she sees no point in withholding unpleasant information from a friend, representing an especially noble variety of it, and Templeton, who is rather overt about his selfish motives for what he does, representing a rather less-than-noble variety. In the book and animated adaptation, the sheep represents a sort of middle ground, telling Wilbur about what farms do to pigs, while the live-action version gives that role to Templeton, bringing his brutal honesty even further.Templeton: What? You're going to lie to the future of football here? Okay, but it's a sad statement when I'm the most honest guy in the place.
- Butt-Monkey: Lurvy, the Zuckermans' farm assistant is very clumsy.
- Canon Foreigner: Brooks and Elwyn the crows did not appear in the book or the 1973 film but were invented for this film.
- Catchphrase: Templeton has oneTempleton: The Rat RULES!
- Chekhov's Gun: The rotten egg which Templeton has been hoarding saves Charlotte's life when Avery accidentally breaks it while trying to catch her.
- Clever Crows: Averted. Elwyn and Brooks, the two crows who try to catch Templeton at multiple points, are not very bright, unlike the typical corvids in media.
- Crows And Ravens: Two dumb crows, Elwyn and Brooks serve as the main obstacle for Templeton getting the words—twice.
- While Templeton is visiting the junkyard to look for a word for Wilbur, Brooks, and Elwyn swoop down to attack him. Luckily, Templeton lures the two crows into a trap, causing them to crash into some sand and pink paint, and they vow revenge.
- Later on, while Templeton was having a good time at the county fair, Brooks and Elwyn go for revenge on the rat. Templeton jumps into a corn-like game machine and tricks the crows by getting trapped by a net.
- Deadpan Snarker: Templeton is one, as per the book.
Charlotte: Ike, this involves every one of us.
- Charlotte gets a few snarky comments in, as well; special mention goes to this exchange with Ike during the meeting where "Terrific" is selected to be written in the web.
Ike: I just have trouble... looking at you, that's all.
Charlotte: This isn't about me, it's about Wilbur. And, for the record, my view of you isn't exactly a treat, either.
- Demoted to Extra: Henry Fussy, Fern's boyfriend, a supporting character in the book and the 1973 film, only gets a couple of cameos. He is an avid photographer who mostly takes pictures of Fern with Wilbur. Later at the fair, he rides the Ferris Wheel with Fern. Some deleted scenes actually expanded Henry's role a bit more.
- Disappeared Dad: Charlotte has 514 children and their father is neither mentioned nor seen. Given the courtship habits of Araneus cavaticus, this is probably for the best.
- Down on the Farm: The Zuckerman's Farm is the main setting of the story, although Wilbur is shown being born on the Arable farm.
- Dying Alone: Charlotte dies alone as Wilbur is being taken home from the fair.
- Faint in Shock:
- Fartillery: Bitsy farts on Templeton when he rudely suggests advertising Wilbur as being tasty, and it’s strong enough to propel him across the barn.
- Filthy Fun: Wilbur is the only barn animal to like rain because with rain comes mud, which he likes to play in.
- Final Speech: Charlotte's last words as Wilbur is leaving the fair.Charlotte: Goodbye... my sweet, sweet Wilbur.
- Food Porn: Double Subverted with the discarded food from the county fair. Not appetizing at first glance but it is if you're a rat. Templeton takes full advantage of it.
- A Friend in Need: Charlotte's only real motivation for helping Wilbur: he's her friend and he's in danger, so she'll do everything she can to save him.
- Friend to All Living Things: Fern, at least until she starts to "grow up" and care more about Henry Fussy than animals. Charlotte is also an example... except to the insects she eats.
- Gasshole: Bitsy the cow has a problem with excessive flatulence. She uses it to her advantage when she farts on Templeton, however.Betsy: Did you get him?
Bitsy: Yep! Bullseye!
- Happy Rain: Wilbur is the only one who likes the rain.
- Heel Realization: Mr. Zuckerman after Wilbur accepts his award which leads him to allow Wilbur to live his whole life.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: It's buried quite deeply in Templeton's gluttonous body in the film adaptations. After Charlotte's death, Templeton helps look after Charlotte's egg sack along with the rest of the farm animals.
- Language Barrier: Downplayed. The humans can't understand the animals, but the animals seem to understand the humans just fine.
- Magnum Opus: Charlotte describes her egg sac as her magnum opus, the finest thing she has ever made. Or, as it turns out, will ever make, as she dies, as spiders do, shortly after producing it.
- Mayfly–December Friendship: Wilbur ends up experiencing this with Charlotte, as she ends up passing away just as he's become a full-grown pig.
- Meaningful Name:
- Fern's surname is Arable, and she lives on a farm. The land on a farm (especially that used in growing crops) is called arable land.
- Charlotte's full name is Charlotte A. Cavatica. She is also a barn spider, and the scientific name for a barn spider is Araneus cavaticus. When her daughter learns that her mother's middle initial was "A", she decides to name herself Aranea.
- Messy Pig: Type 2—Sanitary Swine. Or as sanitary as he can be, considering he sleeps on an enormous pile of manure. Played with when Wilbur has to go to the fair. The sheep advises Wilbur to struggle with being put in a crate. Wilbur's objection that it'll make him messy (after he'd just had a buttermilk bath by Edith Zuckerman) is overruled by the sheep warning him if he doesn't struggle, they'll assume something is wrong with him and leave him behind.
- Mistaken for Insane: Fern Speaks Fluent Animal, but her father doesn't realize this, so when she tells him about what the animals have been saying to each other, he thinks she has gone insane.
- "Not So Different" Remark: Even after asking her father if he would have killed her if she was like Wilbur, Fern's father still insisted on killing Wilbur by saying that she and Wilbur are two different things but Fern says that there's no difference and that what he's doing is unfair.Mr. Arable: A little girl is one thing. A runty pig is another.Fern: There's no difference! This is unfair and unjust. How can you be so heartless.
- N-Word Privileges: Templeton insists that only he can call himself "the rat".
- On Three: Brooks does this both times before he and Elwyn attack Templeton.
- The Power of Friendship: Charlotte works hard to save Wilbur's life.
- The Runt at the End: Wilbur. This is why Fern takes a shine to him.
- Sapient Eat Sapient: Subverted. The film has one for those not familiar with the story. After Fern says she absolutely will not let her dad kill the small piglet, the movie immediately cuts to bacon being fried; and then after that it cuts to Fern holding the small piglet and bottle-feeding it, so as to make clear that the bacon is from some other pig.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Charlotte (at least from Wilbur's perspective). Likely as not, her vocabulary introduced a lot of young readers to words like "languishing", "radiant", "versatile", and "salutations."
- Speaks Fluent Animal: Fern is able to understand what the animals are saying when they talk to each other, although she is not shown speaking to them.
- Species Subversives: Invoked with Samuel, who refuses to be a copycat like the other sheep, as he considers that "following", which is a negative stereotype of sheep.
- Speech Impediment: The g-g-goose has a rather pronounced stutter-utter-utter.
- Spiders Are Scary: Averted. Charlotte is the nicest spider ever. As far as Ike the horse is concerned though, it's played straight, but Played for Laughs...he mostly grows out of it at the end when Charlotte's babies hatch.
- When Ike sees Charlotte for the first time he starts shrieking ''SPIDER! GET IT AWAY FROM ME GET IT AWAY!"
- Then when Charlotte reveals to Wilbur that she drinks fly blood, Ike faints to the ground with a loud THUD. Then as Charlotte climbs down next to the fallen horse:Ike: Please don't hurt me.
Charlotte: Well, since you said "please." (chuckles)
- Also this dialogue when Charlotte is trying to get him involved to a meeting involving Wilbur:Charlotte: Ike, this involves every one of us.
Ike: I just have...trouble looking at you. That's all.
Charlotte: Well, this isn't about me, this is about Wilbur. And for the record, my view of you isn't exactly a treat, either.
- Stealth Insult: Templeton gives a sly one to the cows Betsy and Bitsy. It's half-subverted in that one of the cows laughs in response while the other sees straight through the insult.
- Stink Snub: Charlotte the spider says "I am a trapper. I have to catch my food. Which is why I make my home near you!", to Ike the horse, the implication being that Ike's aroma is what attracts the flies Charlotte eats.
- Translation Convention: In the animals' POV, they speak fluent English, but in the humans' POV, they make realistic animal sounds.
- Useless Protagonist: Wilbur, who pretty much does nothing the whole book. It could be argued he's more of a Decoy Protagonist (along with Fern) if you prefer to think of Charlotte as the actual main character. Or that the point of his character arc is his maturing from a passive piglet who needs to be rescued to a proactive, mature pig who ensures the safety of Charlotte's egg sac and watches over her children after her death.
- We Are as Mayflies: The unspoken reason Charlotte helps Wilbur. She lives only a year and values the friendship for what little life she will enjoy.
- What's In It For Me?: It's a continued theme that Templeton repeatedly asks this question, and is repeatedly answered with very strong incentives. One has to wonder why Templeton hasn't learned to expect it. Only twice is Templeton not threatened - and those are the two final times, first with promises of miles of food at the fair, and last of all when Wilbur promises to let him eat first from his trough for the rest of his life in return for bringing him Charlotte's egg sack.
- Writers Suck: Averted. The last lines of the book and adaptations are, "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."
- You Dirty Rat!: Templeton is a dirty, gluttonous, selfish Jerkass. Played straight in the original book, while in the movies he's a good guy, way deep down.
- Your Days Are Numbered: Wilbur learns from Templeton that Mr. Zuckerman is planning to kill him and turn him into Christmas dinner, so it's up to Charlotte to save his life.