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Charlotte's Web

Based on the 1952 children's book by E.B. White (who also co-authored the ubiquitous college freshman writing handbook The Elements of Style), 1973's Charlotte's Web tells the story of Wilbur the pig (voiced by Henry Gibson), who is born one spring as the runt of his litter but is saved from a sacrificial ax by soft-hearted farmgirl Fern (Pamelyn Ferdin), who raises and cares for him. But the life of livestock cannot be avoided, and when Wilbur is big enough to sell he's sent to live at the nearby Zuckerman farm, where he soon learns he will be slaughtered at the end of the season. Most of the animals take such things in stride, but one — a spider named Charlotte (Debbie Reynolds) — promises that she will save Wilbur's life. For such a popular children's tale — and equally popular animated film — Charlotte's Web has earned unwavering criticism over the years from some folks simply because it was produced by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, the same duo who brought us a few decades' worth of mass-produced Saturday-morning TV cartoons with small budgets and rudimentary animation. And compared to the glory days of Warner or Disney, Charlotte's Web is technically unimpressive, with the static backgrounds and repetitive motions that made Scooby Doo and Super Friends better suited for the boob-tube than the big screen. That said, Charlotte's Web must rank as Hanna-Barbera's finest production, and it is technically superior to their televised products. Furthermore, there is no "correct" way to create an animated film — either the style suspends disbelief or it fails miserably, and Charlotte's Web, thanks in part to the heartfelt story and vocal performances, is top-notch family entertainment that not only offers children cute animals that sing and talk, but lessons about friendship and sacrifice. And perhaps no children's film in history has ever been so blunt about death, its finality, and how life carries on even when loved ones do not. Paramount has released Charlotte's Web on DVD in a package that is pleasant, if not perfect. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is solid, but the source print shows some minor flecking and a regrettable amount of unusual, distracting blemishes — it's clear that Paramount decided this one was not worth restoring at this time for DVD release. However, the print is far from unwatchable, and the monaural audio (Dolby 2.0) is good enough that the many songs come through clear and robust. Also includes the original theatrical trailer and a "Meet the Animals" guessing game. White keep-case.

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