Breathe easy: Gary Winick's new, live-action Charlotte's Web pic does not screw up one of the seminal works of American children's literature. In fact the film modernizes this classic tale without losing the gravity and essential dignity of animals grappling with mortality. Winick skillfully undercuts the seriousness of the subject matter (Wilbur, the porcine protagonist, is essentially on death row for the entirety of the film) with contemporary sarcasm and a liberal dose of potty humor. Dakota Fanning does well by Fern, the film's pig-loving heroine, but John Cleese, with his clipped British delivery, is the real scene-stealer as elitist sheep Samuel. Then there's Steve Buscemi as scheming Templeton the rat, and the always-hilarious Thomas Haden Church as an addled crow both perfectly pitched comic relief. The only true weak spot in this basically charming adaptation is Wilbur. The cardinal sin in children's movies is crossing the line from cute to cloying, and Dominic Scott Kay's high-pitch, overly precocious whine is more saccharine than sweet. Still, with such stellar source material, this Charlotte's Web won't disgrace your childhood memories or your child.
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