I waited eight years to see the live action version of Charlotte's Web. I missed it in the theater, and then back when I still used Netflix, I refused to use up a rental on it figuring that a movie like this would be on television a million times. That prediction turned out to be very wrong. Periodically I would search the guide to see if it was airing and was shocked that even as recently as last year, it was still only showing on premium channels. Then around Christmastime I was even more shocked to see it was available on demand...for a fee!! That's unheard of for a movie that came out in 2006. Then a few weeks ago, it finally aired on Nickelodeon and I was able to record it.
Having now watched it, I can say without a doubt that it was not worth an eight year wait. It wasn't a bad movie, but it wasn't a great one either. The CGI was fantastic though. It was like Babe but with a decade of technological advancements. Wilbur was adorable, and Charlotte was portrayed with class. As in the animated version, Templeton steals the show, voiced brilliantly here by Steve Buscemi. Despite how great the animals looked, the rest of the movie has a too-vibrant Norman Rockwell aesthetic that I found off-putting, and the human characters felt completely flat, even the talented Dakota Fanning could do very little to make the human interaction feel realistic.
The attempt here was make a truly "safe" family movie, and in those regards I would call it a success. But with such powerful source material, they could have made more of an effort to make a movie that would hold some value for adults. But perhaps my biggest problem with the film version was the treatment of Charlotte's death. It felt very glossed over, not only in screen time, but also in Wilbur's acceptance of it. Even now, so many years after the book was published, Charlotte's Web, and Disney's Bambi film, are still the two main ways where children encounter death in way that imparts on them the sadness and meaning behind it. This movie should have set out to uphold that tradition.
All in all, it was entertaining and a solid okay. Granted I'm aware that I'm not the target audience and that young children would probably thoroughly enjoy the film. But as a children's book writer, I strongly believe that children's entertainment should strive to be more than passing entertainment that is easily digestible and quickly forgotten. Charlotte deserves more, and so does Wilbur.