What a fabulous start to a course about children’s literature and film! E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web is obviously a classic, and so too is the 1973 film version by Charles A. Nichols and Iwao Takamoto, The newest iteration, the live-action version released in 2006 by Gary Winick, is a beautifully done film that is also set to be a classic loved by children for years to come. As an avid reader and lover of film, I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to examine such a familiar and well-loved story and connect it to its film counterparts.
In “reading” the films, I tried to keep in mind the elements we discussed in regards to the text including the characters, setting, plot, theme, and style. By focusing on these elements, I was able to make more relevant and specific connections than an overall, general review of the films. Did the characters in the film match with the characters depicted in the movies? How did the tone of each interpretation compare? How was the setting depicted in each version of the story? By focusing on these major elements I was able to truly compare the films and the book rather than simply picking out the noticeable differences. Also, by examining the elements of the films in a smaller scope, I was able to think like the director and come to conclusions about why certain changes were made.
In viewing the films, I also tried to keep in mind that reading a film is different than reading a book. I have always been the typical book lover who is never happy with film interpretations of the books that I love, so for this class, I tried to look from a more analytical view than the emotional view that I normally take towards film adaptations. In doing so, I found that I enjoyed the movies more than I may have if I had just watched them for pure entertainment. I always fall in love with the minute and obscure details of a book, so seeing these things changed or left out of a movie is always disappointing to me. One of the best examples of this is the movie version of City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. City of Ember is one of my absolute favorite series so when the movie came out I was beyond excited. Like always, however, the film left me disappointed. Major elements from the book, such as the idea that there were no movable lights in Ember, were left out of the movie and left a noticeable gap in the story line. If I had viewed this movie more analytically rather than emotionally I may have felt differently.
One major difference between reading the film and reading the book is the pacing. A film has a much smaller window in which to tell the same story, so choices have to be made by the filmmaker as to what is important to the story and which elements are not. In both of the films, I felt the filmmakers stayed true to the plot of the book while still including enough elements from the book to keep the style and tone similar to the book. The pacing of the films was very different though. The animated version spent a lot of time on songs, so the story telling part of the film felt more rushed than the live action version that did not include the songs.
Another difference, specifically between the book and the 2006 film, was the main theme. In the book, the main themes are friendship and the idea of birth and death. While birth and death are a part of the film, they are not as pronounced as they are in the book. Also, in the film, the narrator frequently revisits the idea that ordinary people/creatures can sometimes do extraordinary things. In the book, Charlotte and Wilbur are depicted as anything but ordinary; they seem special from the first time that we meet them. In the movie, however, they are seen as normal, or even outcasts.
In comparing the films to each other, I felt the 2006 version did a more favorable job in terms of producing an experience similar to reading the book. For one, I thought that the characters in the live action movie were better representations of EB White’s original characters. I found the animate Wilbur to be too whiney and self-centered. The 2006 Wilbur truly seemed humble, as he should be. There were more deviations from the original text, such as Fern bringing Wilbur to school, but the overall experience was most like the book.
In the 1973 version of Charlotte’s Web, the filmmakers focused on sound and music as an element of storytelling that was impossible to include in the original text. By including songs, they were able to emphasize the emotions of the characters, something that would have been done using rich language in the story. This was a smart choice as music has been recognized as creating emotional reactions for listeners. Since the movie was intended for younger children, the addition of catchy songs was smart since many films targeted at this age group use songs.
The 2006 version used music in a much more subtle way. Rather than sing along style numbers, this live action version of the movie used music and sound to add a depth to the setting of the movie as well as helping viewers to feel the emotions of the characters. By omitting the lengthy music montages, the filmmakers were able to tell more of the story in about the same amount of time. It also gave this version a more grown-up feel that would appeal to older children.
It was important for us to view and analyze these films. As teachers, we all show movies, so it is important that we use these movies to the fullest and use them as opportunities to deepen our students’ understanding of the texts and their film counterparts. According to Elizabeth Thoman, there are three steps in an effective media program. One of these steps is the use of critical viewing. In critical viewing, viewers are “learning to analyze and questions what is in the frame, how it is constructed, and what may have been left out”. This is exactly what we did throughout this unit and what we should strive to include in our lessons that include films.
Very good paper, Edith. You have a good start here to thinking about how films function as interpretations of books, and why that matters. These are issues that will underlie almost all the activities of the course.
I'm Edie - wife, mom, teacher, instructional designer, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!