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Charlotte's Web (1973 film)

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Charlotte's Web
Charlottes web poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Charles A. Nichols
Iwao Takamoto
Produced by Joseph Barbera
William Hanna
Story by Earl Hamner Jr.
Based on Charlotte's Web 
by E. B. White
Starring Debbie Reynolds
Paul Lynde
Henry Gibson
Narrated by Rex Allen
Music by Richard M. Sherman
Robert B. Sherman
Cinematography Dick Blundell
Ralph Migliori
Roy Wade
Dennis Weaver
Edited by Larry C. Cowan
Pat Foley
Hanna-Barbera Productions
Sagittarius Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • March 1, 1973 (1973-03-01)
Running time
94 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2.4 million (rentals)[1]

Charlotte's Web is a 1973 American animated musical film produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions and Sagittarius Productions and based upon the 1952 children's book of the same name by E. B. White. The film, like the book, is about a pig named Wilbur who befriends an intelligent spider named Charlotte who saves him from being slaughtered and was distributed to theatres by Paramount Pictures on March 1, 1973. It is the first of only three Hanna-Barbera features not based upon one of their famous television cartoons — Heidi's Song (1982) and Once Upon a Forest (1993) being the other two — and was a moderate critical and commercial success.

The song score of lyrics and music was written by the Sherman Brothers, who had previously written music for family films like Mary Poppins (1964), The Jungle Book (1967), and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).

The film has found a devoted following over the years due to television and VHS; in 1994 it surprised the marketplace by becoming one of the best-selling titles of the year, 21 years after its first premiere. No other non-Disney musical animated film has enjoyed such a comeback in popularity, prompting a direct-to-video sequel, Charlotte's Web 2: Wilbur's Great Adventure, which Paramount released in the US on March 18, 2003 (Universal released the film internationally), followed by a live-action film version of the original story, which was released on December 15, 2006.


Early one morning, Fern Arable (Pamelyn Ferdin) prevents her father (John Stephenson) from slaughtering a piglet as the runt of the litter. Deciding to let her daughter deal with nurturing a pig, John Arable spares the piglet, and allows her daughter to raise it as a pet. Fern nurtures it lovingly, naming it Wilbur. Six weeks later, Wilbur, due to being a spring pig, has matured, and John decides to sell Wilbur to Fern's uncle, Homer Zuckerman (Bob Holt). At the farm, Wilbur (Henry Gibson) speaks his first words, though he is left yearning for companionship, and attempts to get Templeton (Paul Lynde) and the goose (Agnes Moorehead) to play with him, though they refuse. Wilbur then wants a lamb to play with him, though the lamb's father (Dave Madden) says sheep don't play with pigs because it's only a matter of time before he will be slaughtered, and turned into smoked bacon and ham. Wilbur reduces himself to tears until a mysterious voice tells him to "chin up", and wait until the morning to reveal herself to him. The next morning, the voice sings a song about "chinning up", and reveals herself to be a Araneus cavaticus named Charlotte (Debbie Reynolds), living on a web overlooking Wilbur's enclosure. Charlotte tells Wilbur that she will come with a plan guaranteed to spare his life.

After Wilbur makes friend with a young gosling named Jeffrey (Don Messick), Charlotte reveals her plan to "pay a trick on Zuckerman", and consoles Wilbur to sleep. The next morning, Zuckerman's farm assistant sees the words, SOME PIG, spun within Charlotte's web. The incident attracts publicity among Zuckerman's neighbors who attribute the praise to a divine intervention. The publicity eventually dies down, and Charlotte requests the barn animals to devise a new word to spin within her cobweb. After several suggestions, the goose suggests the phrase, TERRIFIC! TERRIFIC! TERRIFIC!, though Charlotte decides to shorten it to one TERRIFIC. The incident becomes another media sensation, though Zuckerman still desires to slaughter Wilbur. For the next message, Charlotte then employs Templeton to pull a word from a magazine clipping for inspiration, in which Templeton returns the word, RADIANT, ripped from a soap box to spin within her cobweb. Following this, Zuckerman decides to enter Wilbur into the county fair for the summer. Charlotte decides to accompany Wilbur, though Templeton is reluctant until he is convinced by the goose about the food at the fair. After one night at the fair, Charlotte sends Templeton on another errand to gather another word for her next message, in which Templeton returns with the word, HUMBLE. The next morning, Wilbur awakens to find Charlotte has spun an egg sac containing her unborn offspring, and the following afternoon, the word, HUMBLE, is spun. However, Avery (Danny Bonaduce) discovers another pig named Uncle has won first place, though the county fair staff decides to hold a celebration in honor of Zuckerman's miraculous pig, and rewards Zuckerman $25 and a gold metal. Zuckerman then announces that he will allow Wilbur to live.

Exhausted from laying eggs and messages, Charlotte tells Wilbur she will remain at the fair to die. Following her soothing song of "Mother Earth and Father Time", Wilbur has Templeton to retrieve Charlotte's egg sac to take back to the farm, and Charlotte dies soon after. Having returned to Zuckerman's farm, Wilbur guards Charlotte's egg sac until the winter. The next spring, Charlotte's 5,000 children are hatched, and leave the farm causing Wilbur to become saddened though three of Charlotte's daughters stay behind. Pleased at finding new friends, Wilbur names the spiderlings Joy, Nellie, and Aranea, and the story concludes mentioning that more generations of spiders kept him company in subsequent years.

Voice cast

Five members of the cast (Henry Gibson, Paul Lynde, Agnes Moorehead, Danny Bonaduce, and Dave Madden) had previously appeared on the ABC television situation comedy Bewitched (1964-1972).[2] Hanna-Barbera also animated the opening credits of the show. However, Bonaduce and Madden are more well known for their roles on another ABC-TV sitcom, The Partridge Family (1970-1974), which was still in production when this film was made.


After the studio decided to make the film, Joe Barbera visited E. B. White in Maine. White highlighted parts of the book he did not want changed, and parts "subject to discussion."[3]

Barbera wrote that Debbie Reynolds called him and said that she was willing to join the project even without being paid.[3]


The film was released to theaters on March 1, 1973, by Paramount Pictures in the United States. It had a limited release on February 22, 1973, in New York City, and also released in West Germany on March 30, 1973, as well as August 11 in Sweden, August 25 in Japan, and September 4, 1981 in Australia.

Home media

The film was released on DVD on June 19, 2001.[4]


Charlotte's Web received generally positive reviews. Review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes reported that the film has a 75% fresh rating.[4] Craig Butler of All-Movie Guide criticized the animation and the musical score, but called it a faithful adaptation, noting that, “no attempt has been made to soften the existential sadness at the story's core”.[5] Dan Jardine criticized the songs and the “Saturday morning cartoon quality” of the animation, but also says that Hamner “retains just enough of White’s elegant prose in the dialogue and narration to keep the film from being simply a painfully well-intended experiment.”[6] Christopher Null of stated that the animation is sometimes “downright bad,” but that E.B. White's classic fable needs little to make it come to life.[7] When it was reissued on DVD the film was awarded an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award.[8]

The film was nominated for AFI's 10 Top 10 in the "Animation" genre.[9]

E.B. White's reaction

According to Gene Deitch, a director of animation and friend of E. B. White, Mrs. White wrote the following words in a 1977 letter, "We have never ceased to regret that your version of 'Charlotte's Web' never got made. The Hanna-Barbera version has never pleased either of us...a travesty..."[10] E. B. White himself wrote of the film, "The story is interrupted every few minutes so that somebody can sing a jolly song. I don't care much for jolly songs. The Blue Hill Fair, which I tried to report faithfully in the book, has become a Disney World, with 76 trombones. But that's what you get for getting embroiled in Hollywood."[11] White had previously turned down Disney when they offered to make a film based on Charlotte's Web.[12] According to the film's writer Earl Hamner Jr., Mrs. White (who sometimes offered advice and suggestions to the filmmakers) would have preferred Mozart in the film, rather than the music of the Sherman Brothers.[13]


  1. "Chin Up"
  2. "I Can Talk!"
  3. "A Veritable Smorgasbord"
  4. "Zuckerman's Famous Pig"
  5. "We've Got Lots In Common"
  6. "Mother Earth and Father Time"
  7. "There Must Be Something More"
  8. "Deep In The Dark/Charlotte's Web"

"Zuckerman's Famous Pig"

"Zuckerman's Famous Pig" is the title that saves Wilbur, the pig hero, from being slaughtered in the story. It is the theme of the finale song in the film. It was composed and arranged in a barbershop quartet style by the Sherman Brothers, in keeping with the time and place of the story.[14] It was covered by the Brady Kids and was chosen for release on their first single taken from The Brady Bunch Phonographic Album by producer Jackie Mills.[15]


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974, pg 19.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Barbera, Joseph (1994). My Life in 'toons: From Flatbrush to Bedrock in Under a Century. Atlanta, GA: Turner Publishing. pp. 228–29. ISBN 1-57036-042-1. 
  4. ^ a b "Charlotte's Web Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  5. ^ Butler, Craig. "Charlotte’s Web: Review". All-Movie Guide. Macrovision Corporation. Retrieved 2009-01-28. 
  6. ^ Jardine, Dan. "Charlotte's Web". Apollo Guide. Apollo Communications Ltd. Retrieved 2009-01-28. 
  7. ^ Null, Christopher (2001). "Charlotte's Web (1973)". Retrieved 2009-01-28. 
  8. ^ "Early School Years: Feature-Length Films". Oppenheim Toy Portfolio. Archived from the original on 2006-04-21. Retrieved 2009-04-22. 
  9. ^ AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
  10. ^ Deitch, Gene. How to Succeed in Animation: Chapter 27: A Tangled Web (p.3). 2001. Accessed on: September 27, 2008.
  11. ^ Burr, Ty. Bard of the barn. The Boston Globe. December 10, 2006. Accessed on: September 27, 2008.
  12. ^ Clark, Beverly Lyon (2003). Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Children's Literature in America. The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 178. ISBN 0-8018-8170-6. 
  13. ^ Holleran, Scott (2006-12-22). "Interview: Earl Hamner". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-12-16. 
  14. ^ Richard Chigley Lynch (1989-06-26). Movie Musicals on Record. ISBN 978-0-313-26540-2. 
  15. ^ Kim Cooper, David Smay, Jake Austen (2001-06-01). Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth. ISBN 978-0-922915-69-9. 

External links