Saving Wilbur from the Chop…
Relive your childhood Christmases with this musical animated spin on Charlotte’s Web from the seventies.
Charlotte’s Web (1973) – Trailer, Paramount Movies and pictures © Paramount Movies
Christmas is coming, just in case, you hadn’t noticed. The kids will be looking forward to their hopefully snowy Christmas holidays (unless they live over here in Finland, where it’s already snowing so chances are they (and possibly you) will have lost the novelty by now).
There are the usual choices of Christmas telly to look forward too – and to fight over – and this is where I often miss home with great nostalgic films from my childhood wish list on the telly. Brought up in a house with 3 daughters, films like The Sound of Music (1965), The Slipper and the Rose (1976) and this one, Charlotte’s Web (1973) were usual Christmas viewing as a kid.
Now with one husband and two
stepdudes stepsons at home and living in Finland, this means it’s films with superheroes and lightsabres. Now I can empathise with my dad when I hear of the upcoming barrage of Marvel and Star Wars films. But there’s always Thor in the shape of the lovely Chris Hemsworth which helps.
I’d forgotten about Charlotte’s Web, until I was invited for the Agnes Moorehead Blogathon, and signed up to watch it. It was my first revisiting of this movie – based on the book I read as a kid – more than a few decades later which on the whole I enjoyed apart from most of the songs.
Charlotte’s Web is an animated, musical based on the children’s book by E.B. White. The story is about a wee girl called Fern Arable (Pamelyn Ferdin) who lives on a farm with her parents and brother, Avery. Spring has sprung, and the farm is full of newborn animals. Fern saves a wee, baby piglet from being killed by her father. It’s the runt of the litter, and she keeps it after giving her dad a passionate speech about being little isn’t a bad thing.
She lovingly names it Wilbur and sings to it. As you do. Cue pig/human bonding montage. Wilbur (Henry Gibson) becomes a house pig. It’s supersensitive so it bolts for the house as soon as thunder strikes when leaving his shed on his first night out in captivity. When he reaches six weeks old and has grown into a normal-sized adult pig, her father sells him to her Uncle Homer Zuckerman down the road.
At the new farm, Wilbur misses Fern, and a friendly goose (Agnes Moorehead) is the first to speak to him and she encourages him to talk. Which to the first time viewer – or those who forgot this film is a musical – is either a curse or a blessing as does dependant on your views of singing pigs albeit cartoon ones, as when he sings about it, a lot. Wilbur then tries to make friends with the other animals to find a new playmate and makes good friends with some of the animals.
These including Templeton (Paul Lynde), a rat and Jeffrey, one of the goose’s goslings, also a runt. Meanwhile, Wilbur mopes in his pen, after finding out he will be killed for meat in the future and turned into sausages. And no, I don’t think Rogen’s Sausage Party is a sequel. Then he meets a kindly spider called Charlotte A. Cavatica who offers Wilbur friendship. Charlotte vows to help him escape his fate…
I remembered the story more as the film progressed, however,
sadly my memory of the inclusion of the songs failed me. The songs were written – surprisingly – by the Sherman Brothers, famous for writing more engaging songs for Mary Poppins (1964) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) with more unforgettable casts. All of the songs bar 1, were more annoying than catchy, as someone or a random animal would burst into a song almost as soon as the plot restarted from the last song.
This timing was the film’s main weak point, in contrast to The Slipper and the Rose in which the songs helped rather than hindered proceedings. The only song you will come away singing or remembering is Agnes Moorehead’s duet with Paul Lynde, namely A Veritable Schmorgasboard which is sung in the latter half of the film. Most of the songs were sung amiably enough by the cast, but on the whole, they are pretty pointless, so use this time wisely.
The animation is very 1970s and a delightful reminder of the cartoons of this time that I enjoyed as a kid. This animation is much more charming than the current influx of CGI animation remakes slowly replacing our childhood favourite cartoons such as Thunderbirds Are Go! (2015) and Fireman Sam Movies (2014), even No 2 stepdude prefers the original Scooby Doo (1969-70) cartoons.
Charlotte’s Web was created by Hanna-Barbera, home of The Perils of Penelope Pitstop (1969-71) and Wacky Races (1968)). During A Veritable Smorgasbord, there is some fun – almost trippy – animation with bright colours and almost like a visual homage to Hollywood musicals.
I enjoyed finding out who does the voices in animated films before I see the movie. This so I don’t spend the whole movie wanting to consult the internet for the cast. I only knew the actresses Debbie Reynolds (Carrie Fisher’s mum) played Charlotte and Agnes Moorehead (from Bewitched (1 964-72)), as the Goose. Other names you might just remember include Henry Gibson in Innerspace (1987) and Martha Scott from Airport 75 (1974). Moorehead and Paul Lynde had worked together on Bewitched.
Comparing, this particular animation to the trailer of the live-action remake I enjoyed the original much much more. Charlotte’s Web (2006) was remade in 2006, in live-action but with a more memorable voice cast – that comes with age and increased movie knowledge – including Julia Roberts as Charlotte and Steve Buschemi as Templeton.
Both these characters being animated compared to the other animals in the cast which is sadly more than obvious in the trailer. I haven’t seen the whole film, but having seen the trailer looks more like a Babe homage to the children’s classic book I enjoyed reading. I’ve got a novel idea, rather than make a remake of this cartoon classic, I and many I’m sure would gladly pay for a film version of the original movie without these songs. But with the same cast, now that would bring home the bacon.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
Agnes Moorehead Blogathon 2016, No 29
This was added to The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood‘s Blogathon on Agnes Moorehead. Other films with this cast include Debbie Reynolds in Divorce American Style. Agnes Moorehead stars in Night of Terror and she stars with Paul Lynde in Bewitched. Henry Gibson in Innerspace and Martha Scott from Airport 75 and Dallas.