E.B. White's kid-lit classic "Charlotte's Web" goes Hollywood with a bright and shiny, live action-CGI makeover. But even go-to "adorable" actor Dakota Fanning can't make up for the lack of wit and imagination in this holiday release.
The story was told on film once before in a 1973 Hanna-Barbera animated feature, but this version, generally faithful to its source material, is a big-budget affair, complete with an all-star vocal cast.
Fanning appears as the young heroine Fern, who rescues a runty pig, Wilbur, from her farmer father's chopping block. Wilbur's adventure continues on the farm of Fern's uncle, where it seems like the good-natured and unassuming pig is destined to wind up as Christmas dinner until maternal spider Charlotte (voiced by Julia Roberts) weaves the phrase "some pig" in her web.
Also lending their notable voices to the film are Kathy Bates, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Robert Redford, Thomas Haden Church, Cedric the Entertainer, Reba McEntire, OutKast's Andre Benjamin and Oprah Winfrey. But, with the exception of Buscemi's self-centered rat Templeton, their barnyard characters remain mostly on the sidelines.
Though every animal gets a turn at wisecracking, the humor is erratic, mostly relying on bad puns and almost always landing with a thud. The movie is better in its quieter moments, like the lovely scene in which Charlotte (an entirely CG, but believable, creation) weaves her web alone at night.
Roberts brings genuine warmth to her vocal turn, and Wilbur is indeed some pig. But he's not exactly "Babe" and neither is the film. Still, the tender life lessons of the source material ensure this is respectable holiday-season viewing for fans of the bookor anyone with a kid to entertain for 90 minutes.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times