I read the wonderful classic Charlotte’s Web to my boys years ago, and I remember Phinehas’ devastation at the final pages. He couldn’t comprehend or process the sad, yet inherently hopeful, ending. I will never forget the tears that welled up in his eyes, which he refused to let fall (he’s my tough and tenderhearted guy). So, I wondered how the rest of the family would fare watching the film adaptation. My two girls haven’t heard the story yet; our youngest, as you know, is especially sensitive to emotional distress.
However, I am pleased to say that as we periodically checked in with Skyler, her response remained positive (“It’s so funny”), which was reassuring. What child, young or old, doesn’t like a talking animal or two, or ten? That barn is full of personality and personalities for the kids to enjoy and relate to. (Is it weird that the only voice I recognized was Sam Shepard’s? I feel old.) And, who doesn’t love Dakota Fanning at that young age? So precocious and still adorable, she was a perfect fit, although I found her character a bit defiant and wished she would have been more respectful toward her parents.
There is nothing to be concerned with in this movie- no swearing, sex, coarse joking, violence- it’s all age-appropriate. They even honored the innocence of a first crush between a young girl and boy, which I found refreshing. It’s only the inevitable ending that one must watch out for.
Skyler, who’s four years old, couldn’t quite understand the reasoning for a certain character’s demise (I don’t want to give anything away to those who have yet to encounter the story), and she kept asking why it had to happen. I don’t feel the movie adequately addressed this question. It’s been awhile since I read the book, but even as I grieved while reading those pages to the boys, I remember having a better sense of resolution or understanding than the movie provided.
Without glossing over death but paying respect to the loss, the filmmakers do manage to lighten the mood at the very end, and my daughter was satisfied and happy as the credits rolled (she still had a few questions, though, on the way to bed). Can I confess that I was the only person in my family with great tears rolling down my cheeks? Even knowing what was coming didn’t stop me from being completely heartbroken. However, I, too, was buoyed by the delightful voices of new characters and their flight at the end of the movie.
I readily recommend Charlotte’s Web, as do all of my children. It deftly covers the values of friendship,family, selflessness, acceptance, and faith in a simple, straightforward way. Just be prepared to discuss death and the circle of life with younger viewers.