Overall, the 1973 Hanna-Barbera film interpretation of Charlotte’s Web did a fair job of keeping true to E.B. White’s beloved classic. Most of the vital scenes from the book found a way into the film. While more rushed than in the book, these scenes were addressed in enough detail to satisfy fans of the book while maintaining the brevity that is needed in a film adaptation of a book. There were some changes, such as how Henry Fussy was introduced and the addition of Jeffery the gosling, but overall the story being told is the same as in the book.
Henry Fussy, in my opinion, is one of the standout differences between the book and movie. In the book, Henry is mentioned, but seems to be a rather flat character. He is, in essence, simply a reason for Fern to leave Wilbur and is not developed in much detail. In the movie, however, he is a much more developed character. In the movie, he is given more of a back story, complete with overbearing mother, violin lessons, and more of a high-society type life than Fern the farm girl. Throughout the film, Henry changes, first with his visit to the Zuckerman farm, and later in his glasses-free form at the fair. This change by Henry, in my opinion, is meant to lead viewers to think that the changes he has made were in order to woo Fern.
In our earlier discussions, I mentioned that I thought that the book had a theme focused on birth and death. The film also has this theme. While the film feels very whimsical with all of the singing and dancing, it does not hide the harsh realities of death and loss that are central in the book. This is especially true at the end of the movie when Wilbur has reached his breaking point with the loss of all of Charlotte’s babies. This feeling of loss is remedied when Wilbur learns, like in the book, that three of the babies have remained at the barnyard. This is almost like a rebirth for Wilbur, giving him a purpose. He feels it is his responsibility to teach these three small spiders about his dear friend Charlotte.
Obviously the book is not rife with songs like in this version, but the songs fill an important void. When interpreting a book, especially one as beloved as Charlotte’s Web, film makers seem to struggle with conveying the emotions that are so much more easily expressed in text. By adding songs to the movie, the film makers were able to embed added emotion that would be hard to instill without making the film much longer. Music has been used for hundreds of years as a means both express and elicit emotions and the film makers used this tactic to relate Wilbur’s feelings of sadness, joy, and melancholy. Some of the songs were a bit hokey and added for pure entertainment, but even these songs added to the tone of the story. The song Charlotte sings to Wilbur about keeping his chin up seemed especially successful at adding emotion into the story.
The 2006 version of Charlotte’s Web starts very similarly to the book with the birth of Wilbur on the Arable farm. Fern starts the film by saving Wilbur’s life and promises to keep Wilbur alive. Fern’s character, known for being stubborn and strong in the book, is amped up in the movie and is a much stronger character, so much so that she could almost be considered defiant in some of her responses to her parents. This is especially obvious in her response to her parents after being told that Wilbur would be going to the Zuckerman farm when she said, “I didn’t promise you, I promised Wilbur.” It is also evident in her actions when she disobeys her parents and brings Wilbur to school with her after being told to put in the basket.
The theme of this version of the movie is a bit of a departure from the theme of the book. While birth and death are part of the storyline of the movie, the theme seems to focus more upon ordinary creatures doing extraordinary things, a sentiment which is mentioned several times by the narrator. This, in my opinion, is to make the story more relatable for younger viewers. Birth and death are not necessarily topics that many children can relate with. The idea of being ordinary, however, is much more relatable. Perhaps the film makers saw this as an opportunity to inspire ordinary children become extraordinary.
Another big difference between the book and this film version is how Charlotte is viewed by the other barnyard animals. In the book, Charlotte is respected by the other creatures and seen as being wise and motherly. In the movie, however, the barnyard animals think that Charlotte is disgusting and creepy. The horse literally faints in fear at the sight of her and Templeton asserts that she is even lower in status than him, and he’s a rat! I think the film makers probably made this choice to make the friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur more unlikely. If Charlotte was popular and well liked, of course she would be liked by Wilbur. This change also serves to strengthen the idea or ordinary things becoming extraordinary. The barnyard animals see Charlotte as a normal, creepy, ugly spider and Wilbur as a normal, doomed, pig. Throughout the film, however, the animals change and learn to view Charlotte and Wilbur with respect. Through Charlotte’s beautiful webs and Wilbur’s innocence, the creatures are transformed.
One idea that was translated well into the film is the passage of time. It is not overly pronounced, but touches such as fireworks for the 4th of July and the changing color of the leaves show that time is passing and the seasons are getting ever closer to Christmas dinner. The changing of seasons is present in the book as a reminder of the imminent death of Wilbur, just like in this version of the movie. This is important in providing a sense of urgency for the characters. If they are not able to change how Mr. Zuckerman feels, than Wilbur will not see the first snow.
I'm Edie - wife, mom, teacher, instructional designer, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!