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Western Animation / Charlotte's Web

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"Sometimes when somebody loves you,
Miracles somehow appear.
And there in the warp and the woof
Is the proof of it,
Charlotte's Web!"

The children's book Charlotte's Web by E. B. White 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 it featured 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, scrutinizing its "jolly songs" as detrimental to his narrative's tone and pacing. This did not stop it from becoming a popular success, enjoying strong popularity on VHS and television.

A noticeably Lighter and Softer Direct to Video sequel titled Charlotte's Web 2: Wilbur's Great Adventure was released in 2003 by Paramount and Universal, with animation production handled by the latter. Set a year after the original film's conclusion, the film features Wilbur (now a surrogate father figure to Charlotte's daughters Joy, Nellie and Arania) befriending Cardigan, a literal Black Sheep who is ostracized by his herd.

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 Wilbur leaves for the fair.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Templeton is more of a likable Jerk with a Heart of Gold in this film adaptation, especially given that he's voiced by Paul Lynde, whereas in the original book he is utterly self-centered and amoral.
  • Adaptation Deviation:
    • The scene where the baby spiders are given their names is slightly altered from the story. In the book, Joy gets her name because Wilbur was "trembling with joy"; in the movie, Wilbur sees Joy dangling and trembling on her dragline and she says she's "trembling with joy", and Wilbur gives Joy her name.
    • An extra scene was added to Wilbur's depression in the end after the baby spiders fly away: he attempts to run away because he's had enough, but then the ram tells him three of the spiders have stayed, when in the book, he finds out three of the spiders have stayed himself.
    • Charlotte's death scene was slightly altered as well. In the book, she dies alone after Wilbur leaves the fair; but in the movie, Wilbur witnesses her death prior to leaving.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: In the book, it's explicitly stated that Fern can hear the animals speaking English (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 she merely understands what the animal noises mean 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 into the animated adaptation is when Wilbur busts out of his pen with the geese urging him to be free. Though it did eventually end up in the live-action adaptation (along with the Dorian scene).
    • Among the characters, the Gander, the Goose's mate and father of her goslings, is omitted.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Are Wilbur and his friends Nearly Normal Animals that only Fern can hear talking, or Talking Animals that Masquerade as normal animals around everyone except Fern?
  • Animation Bump: While still not quite Disney animation, the film's more expressive and fluid animation is otherwise a testament to what Hanna-Barbera's artists could do with the budget and schedule of a feature film, and easily distinguished from the kind of Limited Animation often found in the TV shows they were producing at the same time.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care: Overlaps with Values Dissonance. In both the 1973 version and the book (both set during the 1940s or early 1950s), 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, we now know that sulfur isn't something humans or animals should really be ingesting.
  • Artistic License – Arachnids: Charlotte has antennae, two eyes and a mouth like that of a vertebrate.
  • Award-Bait Song: "Mother Earth and Father Time".
  • 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.
  • Baby's First Words: Though not a baby, Wilbur is encouraged to talk for the first time by the goose (his first word was his own name), and he eventually sings about it. Note that this was not in the book itself, where Wilbur could already talk upon arrival.
  • Balloon Belly / Big Eater: Templeton after eating at the fair.
  • Big Brother Bully: Fern's brother Avery, though not exactly a bully, is just rather obnoxious and 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.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Just like in the book, Charlotte passes away, but Templeton saves her egg sac with 514 baby spiders which hatches the following spring; only three of them (Joy, Arania, and Nellie) stick with Wilbur in the final scene.
  • 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.
  • Bullet Seed: After Templeton crashed into a watermelon, see Impact Silhouette below, he spits out the seeds before he eats it from the inside.
  • Butt-Monkey: Lurvy, the Zuckermans' farm assistant, is very clumsy.
  • Canon Foreigner: Jeffery the gosling was created for this version of the film and did not appear in the book itself.
  • 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.
  • Children Are Tender-Hearted: Mr. Arable is about to kill the newborn Wilbur because he's the runt of the litter. The sobbing Fern implores him not to pull through with it, claiming that even though Wilbur's a piglet, he shouldn't be slaughtered just for being smaller than the others. Mr. Arable relents and lets her keep Wilbur.
  • 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 Glare: During the meeting, Charlotte shoots a disinterested Templeton several of these. He unwisely ignores them.
  • 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.
  • Dreadful Musician: Henry Fussy is shown practicing the violin in his introductory scene. His violin music is shrill and off-key. It's somewhat justified in that Henry is a beginner and does not enjoy playing the violin. Henry feels much better later on after his grandfather accidentally breaks his violin.
  • 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.
  • Faint in Shock: Wilbur is even more prone to this than in the book.
    • He faints when Lurvey force-feeds him a sulphur-and-molasses tonic.
    • When he first learns that the humans are planning to kill him for meat, and then again when he overhears them talking about it.
    • He almost faints again at the mention of "crunchy bacon," but Charlotte stops it by saying, "Wilbur, I forbid you to faint!"
  • Final Speech: Charlotte's last words at the very end of the Dark Reprise of "Mother Earth and Father Time", just before passing away.
    How very special are we... For just a moment to be... Part of life's... eternal... rhyme.
  • 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.
  • Gender Flip: The Old Sheep is a ewe in the book, but a ram in this film.
  • Happy Circus Music:
    • Played for Laughs with "A Fair is a Veritable Smorgasbord." The music itself has an elegant carnival waltz tune, but the lyrics are very inelegant. In the song, the Goose convinces Templeton the rat to go to the fair so he can chow down on all the food left behind when the fair closes. "That's where a rat can glut, glut, glut, glut" is not how most people would happily describe a carnival.
    • Later in the movie, the song plays again, this time in a fast-paced madcap style as Templeton raids the fair for leftover food during closing hours, then turns slow and intoxicated towards the end as Templeton gets fat from eating and enters a state of bliss.
  • Happy Flashback: Before Charlotte passes away, we get a montage of flashbacks of Wilbur's whole life throughout the movie, from being saved by Fern to his time on the farm and winning a medal, as she thinks of the wonderful times they've had now that nothing can harm him.
  • Hiccup Hijinks: Templeton, after his overeating at the fair, gets these mid-musical number and they last him up to the next morning.
  • Impact Silhouette: During the Gluttony Montage, Templeton crashed into a watermelon. It leaves a Templeton-shaped hole in it. He spits out the seeds and eats the watermelon from the inside, leaving no trace of the Templeton-shaped hole.
  • 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 this adaptation.
  • Language Barrier: Downplayed. The animals either can't or choose not to talk to anyone except Fern.
  • 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.
    • Templeton. When the goose tells him that a fair is a rat's paradise, he says, "What you're saying tempts me."
  • 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 that if he doesn't struggle, they'll assume something is wrong with him and leave him behind.
  • Narrator: Rex Allen narrates the film.
  • No Body Left Behind: Charlotte edges herself off the top of the roof rafter in her final moments, so that Wilbur (and the audience) doesn't see her pass away.
  • 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!" For those who know who Paul Lynde was, it's more "Who knew?"
    • After Templeton returns from his night of overeating at the fairgrounds, Wilbur informs him that Charlotte has laid 514 eggs. Templeton's response? "This has been a night!"
  • The Power of Friendship: Charlotte works hard to save Wilbur's life.
  • Please Wake Up: Wilbur calls out to Charlotte when she stops singing. He repeats her name three times, goes Oh, Crap! when it sinks in, and starts crying.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: The end of Charlotte's Death Song, as her words are slowly being reduced to a whisper before she succumbs.
    Charlotte: How very special are we... For just a moment... To be... Part of life's... Eternal... Rhyme. (Passes away)
  • Puppy Love: Fern starts viewing Henry as a date instead of a playmate, and her interests start to shift away from Wilbur to him. Charlotte tells Wilbur that's how it should be, despite his jealousy.
  • Recycled Animation: Owing to the very low animation budget (by feature film standards, anyway), this Hanna-Barbera trope 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 where Charlotte spins a message into her web.
  • The Runaway: Wilbur almost does this when Charlotte's daughters take off, before the ram reveals that three of them decided to stay.
  • 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!!! (breaks down in tears)
  • 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", "salutations", and "magnum opus".
  • Somewhere, an Entomologist Is Crying: Charlotte has antennae like an insect.
  • Speech Impediment: The g-g-goose has a rather pronounced stutter-utter-utter.
  • Spiders Are Scary: Averted. Charlotte is the nicest spider ever.
  • Sultry Belly Dancer: While an admittedly small detail, the fair that Zuckerman and his family attend to show off Wilbur features a belly dancing exhibit.
  • 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.
  • Translation Convention: In the animals' POV, they speak English, but in the humans' POV, they make realistic animal sounds.
  • Triumphant Reprise: "Zuckerman's Famous Pig" returns in a more celebratory manner when Wilbur is offered a medal and Mr. Zuckerman decides to let him live the rest of his life.
  • Typewriter Eating: Templeton does this to eat the tiny kernels in the corn on the cob during the second "A Fair Is a Veritable Smorgasbord" musical number.
  • Verbal Tic: The geese tend to repeat their own words as they talk.
    Gander: It's my idio-idio-idiosyncrasy.
  • 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.
  • Wham Line: As the fair is winding down and Wilbur talks about returning to the farm with his medal, Charlotte tells Wilbur this...
    Charlotte: I will not be going back to the barn. [...] I'm done for, Wilbur. In a while, I'll be dead.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After Wilbur returns home from the fair, what happened to Jeffrey, the gosling that wanted to be a pig? Jeffrey's siblings aren't seen either and the Goose is shown hatching a new set of eggs.
  • 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 sac.
  • 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.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Wilbur is going to be killed and turned into a meal at Christmastime, and it's up to Charlotte to save him.


Charlotte's Web

Wilbur discovers he's going to be slaughtered and turned into Christmas dinner.

How well does it match the trope?

4.83 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / YourDaysAreNumbered

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