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 manages to modernize 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. While Dakota Fanning does well by Fern, the film’s pig-loving heroine, John Cleese, with his clipped British delivery, is the real scene-stealer as elitist sheep Samuel. The only true weak spot in this basically charming adaptation is Wilbur, with Dominic Scott Kay’s high-pitched, overly precocious whine more saccharine than sweet. Still, with such stellar source material, this Charlotte’s Web won’t disgrace your childhood memories—or your child.