This weekend I took my daughters to see the eponymous Charlotte’s Web, except in Germany it is called Schweinchen Wilbur und seine Freunde, which really doesn’t have the same ring to it. I was a little nervous because the last time I took them to a movie (The March of the Penguins), Daisy was hideously bored and spent her time breathing hotly down the necks of the people in front of us, craning round to stare at the people behind us, talking loudly, squirming and generally indicating that she would rather be having her toenails pulled out. This time both she and her older sister were gripped.
I wish I could say I had been. While it was delightful and enchanting and well worth seeing, the German habit of dubbing all movies rather than providing subtitles means that, for me, something is always lost in translation. At least, since most of the cast are animals, I didn’t have my usual trouble trying, but failing, not to lip-read in the hope of catching what is really being said. I understand and speak German, but the English-speaking part of my brain is dominant and is always double-guessing the German bit. So instead of relaxing and enjoying the movie, I’m party to an exhausting internal dialogue. This is the main reason why I don’t watch many movies in the cinema anymore (not to mention the small babysitting issue), and why DVDs rule.
I think for a grown-up, half the fun of Charlotte’s Web – the Movie is the actors who voice the animals: Julia Roberts as Charlotte, Oprah Winfrey as Gussy the Goose, Steve Buscemi as Templeton the Rat and John Cleese as Samuel the Sheep. Seeing the German dubbed version also means missing out on Sam Shepard as the narrator and Robert Redford as Ike the Horse, which is a pity. It looks like I’ll be buying the DVD.
The movie, every bit as charming and whimsical as its reviews suggest, is slighter than the book, which I read to my girls last year and which I loved as a child. The movie focuses less on the family (Fern’s troublesome big brother Avery is much more anodyne, Fern’s emotional problems are not intensely dwelt upon) and more on the animals. However, Wilbur’s story is very well told, his relationship with Charlotte is sweet and the scenes of her spinning words in her web are lovely. The three of us wept when she died.
The movie does adhere to the message of the book: miracles are possible, friendship can transcend barriers and words are powerful. When my teacher read Charlotte’s Web aloud to my class in Grade 4, I fell in love with the book. I quickly got over the fact that Charlotte was a spider, but what always appealed to me was that she was a writer and a good friend. She was tiny and insignificant, but she made great things happen and she used words to do so. She looked at someone who was ordinary, and by carefully selecting the perfect words to describe him, she showed that he was special. Where everyone else ignored him or couldn’t be troubled to become his friend since he was going to the smokehouse to turn into the Christmas roast, Charlotte made the effort to be his friend. She looked at his heart, instead of at his pigginess, and saw the goodness there.
For what is really just a children’s story, the messages are so powerful and inspirational. When it came to naming my blog in March last year, I didn’t even have to think. It could only be Charlotte’s Web – a place where I come to write, where I try to see the good in the ordinary, where I try to be a friend, where I select my words carefully. I want my world to be a bit terrific, to be somewhat radiant, but also to be a little bit humble and I try to reflect that here.