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Western Animation / Charlotte's Web

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Charlotte's Web was first adapted as an animated film in 1973. It was produced by Hanna-Barbera and Sagittarius Productions, and released by Paramount. Its screenplay was written by Earl Hamner, Jr. (The Waltons) and music by The Sherman Brothers (The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Mary Poppins) and featuring the voices of Debbie Reynolds as Charlotte, Paul Lynde as Templeton and Henry Gibson as Wilbur. The film was reasonably well-reviewed by critics (74% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), though endured some complaints regarding the quality of the animation and the music. Notably, E.B. White himself was disappointed by the film. This did not stop it from becoming a popular success, enjoying strong popularity on VHS and television.

A Direct-to-Video sequel, with the subtitle "Wilbur's Great Adventure" was released in 2003 by Paramount and Universal, with animation production handled by the latter.

For the original book see Charlotte's Web.

Some tropes weaved into this Charlotte's Web

  • Adaptation Expansion: The 1973 film adds scenes that flesh out Henry Fussy as a nerd with an overbearing mother, who eventually loosens up and starts acting and dressing his age (and even loses his glasses) after a visit to his grandfather, leading Fern to "suddenly see him with new eyes." It also gives Wilbur another inseparable friend, Jeffrey the gosling, though he disappears without explanation after the fair scenes.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Templeton is more of a likable Jerk with a Heart of Gold in this film adaptations especially given that he's voiced by Paul Lynde, whereas in the original book he is utterly self-centered and amoral.
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  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: In the book, it's explicitly stated that Fern can hear the animals talking loud and clear (see Adapted Out). In the film, this is not made very obvious, which makes it hard to tell for a viewer that is unfamiliar with the book if her conversation with her parents over dinner is just her playing pretend or if she really can hear the animals.
  • Adapted Out:
    • The book has a scene where Nancy Arable (Fern's mom) visits psychiatrist Dr. Dorian, having been concerned about her daughter frequently visiting Homer's barn (and her seemingly telling how animals can think/talk in some way). The scene with Dr. Dorian is nowhere to be found in the animated film.
    • Another scene from the book that didn't make it in the animated adaptation is when Wilbur busts out of his pin with the geese urging him to be free. Though it did eventually end up in the live-action adaptation (along with the Dorian scene).
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  • Animated Musical: This version is one.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Though Avery's actually older than Fern, he still fits the trope perfectly given that he's very obnoxious and rather mischievous. He tries to catch Charlotte for his collection only to be stopped by the rotten egg breaking. Though Avery still has a good heart.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care: Overlaps with Values Dissonance. In both the 1973 version and the book, Wilbur's refusal to eat earns him a spoonful of sulfur and molasses shoved down his throat. An old mountain cure, this "spring tonic" was believed to wake up the blood after the long winter while also serving as a laxative. Needless to say, sulfur isn't something humans or animals should really be ingesting.
  • Babies Ever After: Although Charlotte dies and most of her offspring leave the farm, three of her daughters remain. Also, the ending of the 1973 film brings a host of new babies to the farm animals — even Templeton's.
  • Balloon Belly / Big Eater: Templeton after eating at 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.
  • 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.
  • Butt-Monkey: Lurvy, the Zuckermans' farm assistant is very clumsy.
  • 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.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Mr. Zuckerman describes how a message praising his pig has mysteriously appeared in the middle of a spider web, and concludes that they have "no ordinary pig." His wife disagrees:
    Edith Zuckerman: It seems to me you're a little off. It seems to me we have no ordinary spider.
    Homer Zuckerman: Oh, no, it's the pig that's unusual. It says so, right there in the middle of the web.
  • Dark Reprise: In the 1973 film, "Mother Earth and Father Time" returns in a more somber manner as Charlotte faces her imminent death.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Templeton. It helps that he's voiced by Paul Lynde in the 1973 film.
  • Death Song: The second version of "Mother Earth and Father Time", from the 1973 animated film.
  • 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.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: The scene where Templeton sneaks around the fairgrounds at night in the '73 film. This isn't actually too far off the mark from what actually happens.
  • Disneyfication: This is what the original author felt the 1973 movie had subjected his story to.
  • Down on the Farm: A lot of action is set on two different farms. The Arable's and Zuckerman's.
  • Dying Alone: Averted with this version of Charlotte's death, unlike in the book or the 2006 film. Here, Wilbur is with her as she dies just before the humans take him home.
  • Fainting: Wilbur is prone to this whenever he when he overhears the Zuckermans still planning to slaughter him. Templeton revives him by biting his tail. He also faints after Lurvey forces him to take sulphur and molasses as medicine - a scene where he doesn't faint in the book.
  • 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.
  • Freudian Slip: Fern accidentally says "Wilbur" when the teacher asks her what the capital of Pennsylvania state is.
  • 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.
  • Hiccup Hijinks: Templeton, after his overeating at the fair, get these mid-musical number and they last him up to the next morning.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: Charlotte's facial features in the animated film seem to vaguely resemble those of Debbie Reynolds, who provided her voice. The same can be said for Templeton and his voice actor Paul Lynde.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: It's buried quite deeply in Templeton's gluttonous body in the film adaptations.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: At one point, Charlotte sings Wilbur a lullaby about "the dung and the dark." It's appropriately sweet, soothing, and just happens to incorporate the fact that Wilbur sleeps in literal cow manure.
  • 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 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.
  • Only Sane Man: In the animated version, Edith Zuckerman is the only human to point out that a spiderweb with "SOME PIG" woven into it is more indicative that the spider is special, not the pig. Her husband immediately dismisses the idea.
  • Parental Bonus: In the animated film, the "I got lucky" facial expression Templeton has on his face when he and his mate and his offspring walk by. The satisfied chuckle he gives just screams, "Behold, the evidence of my conquest!"
  • 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.
  • Say My Name: In the 1973 film version, after Charlotte passes away:
    Wilbur: Charlotte? Charlotte?? CHARLOTTE!!!
  • 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.
  • Speech Impediment: The g-g-goose has a rather pronounced stutter-utter-utter.
  • Spiders Are Scary: Averted. Charlotte is the nicest spider ever.
  • Stock Footage: Owing to the very low animation budget (by feature film standards, anyway), this happens here and there. One point of notice is that the footage used for the crowds pulling in is the same for the first two occasions Charlotte spins a message into her web.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Templeton, for most of the story is just an antisocial loner, who really doesn't want to be involved in Charlotte's plan to save Wilbur, unless there's something in it for him. However, he delivers an out-of-nowhere Kick the Dog moment towards the end when Wilbur explains to him that Charlotte is dying and asks him to carry her egg sac into the crate. Templeton's response?
    • It's less out-of-nowhere in the book, where the omniscient narrator tells us early on that "the rat had no morals, no decency, no milk of rodent kindness, no compunctions, no higher feeling, no friendliness, no anything." But in the adaptations, without that passage and with Templeton characterized as more of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, it's slightly jarring.
  • Verbal Tic: The geese tend to repeat their own words as they talk.
    Gander: It's my idio-idio-idiosyncracy.
  • 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 Happened to the Mouse?: Regarding the 1973 version: What happened to Jeffrey, the gosling that wanted to be a pig?
  • 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 Wilber 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.


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