Charlotte's Web (1973 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Story by||Earl Hamner Jr.|
|Based on||Charlotte's Web
by E. B. White
|Narrated by||Rex Allen|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$2.4 million (rentals)|
Charlotte's Web is a 1973 American animated musical drama 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. It, like the book, is about a pig named Wilbur who befriends an intelligent spider named Charlotte who saves him from being slaughtered. Released to theatres by Paramount Pictures, it features a song score of music and lyrics 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). It is the first of only three Hanna-Barbera features not to be based upon one of their famous television cartoons, Heidi's Song (1982) and Once Upon a Forest (1993) being the other two.
The film was released on March 1, 1973 to moderate critical and commercial success. It developed a devoted following over the following 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 it internationally), followed by a live-action film version of the original story, which was released on December 15, 2006.
When farmer John Arable decides to "do away with" the runt of a litter of piglets, his daughter, Fern, intervenes, telling him that it is absurd to kill him just because he is smaller than the others. John decides to spare him and let her raise him as a pet. She nurtures him lovingly, naming him Wilbur. Six weeks later, he, due to being a spring pig, has matured, and John tells Fern that he has to be sold (his siblings were already sold). She sadly says good-bye as he is sold down the street to her uncle, Homer Zuckerman. At Homer's farm, a goose coaxes a sullen Wilbur to speak his first words. Although delighted at this new ability, he still yearns for companionship. He attempts to get the goose to play with him, but she declines on the condition that she has to hatch her goslings. He also tries asking a rat named Templeton to play with him, but Templeton's only interests are spying, hiding, and eating. He then wants to play with a lamb, but her father says sheep do not play with pigs because it is only a matter of time before they are slaughtered and turned into smoked bacon and ham. Horrified at this depressing discovery, Wilbur reduces himself to tears until a mysterious voice tells him to "chin up", and wait until morning to reveal herself to him. The following morning, she reveals herself to be a spider named Charlotte A. Cavatica living on a web overlooking his pig pen. She tells him that she will come up with a plan guaranteed to spare his life.
Later, the goose's goslings hatch. One of them, named Jeffrey, befriends Wilbur. Eventually, Charlotte reveals her plan to "play a trick on Zuckerman", and consoles Wilbur to sleep. The next morning, Homer's farm assistant, Lurvy, sees the words, SOME PIG, spun within Charlotte's web. The incident attracts publicity among Homer's neighbors who deem the praise to be a miracle. The publicity eventually dies down, and Charlotte requests the barn animals to devise a new word to spin within her web. 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 Homer still desires to slaughter Wilbur. For the next message, Charlotte then employs Templeton to pull a word from a magazine clipping at the dump for inspiration, in which he returns the word, RADIANT, ripped from a soap box to spin within her web. Following this, Homer decides to enter Wilbur in the county fair for the summer. Charlotte reluctantly decides to accompany him, though Templeton at first has no interest in doing so until the goose tells him about all the food there. After one night there, Charlotte sends Templeton to the trash pile on another errand to gather another word for her next message, in which he 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, Fern's brother, Avery, discovers another pig named Uncle has won first place, though the county fair staff decides to hold a celebration in honor of Homer's miraculous pig, and rewards him $25 and a gold medal. he then announces that he will allow Wilbur to "live to a ripe old age".
Exhausted from laying eggs and writing words, Charlotte tells Wilbur she will remain at the fair to die. Not willing to let her children be abandoned, Wilbur has Templeton retrieve her egg sac to take back to the farm just before she dies. Once he returns to Homer's farm, he guards the egg sac until the winter. The next spring, Charlotte's 514 children are hatched, but leave the farm causing Wilbur to become saddened to the point of wanting to run away. Just as he is about to do so, the ram points out that three of them did not fly away. Pleased at finding new friends, he names them Joy, Nellie, and Aranea. But as much as he loves them, they will never replace the memory of Charlotte.
- Henry Gibson as Wilbur, a pig who was almost killed due to being a runt. Over time, however, he grows so much that one would never have known he was once a runt. When he learns of his fate of being slaughtered, he instantly breaks down into tears, until Charlotte tells him that she will do whatever it takes to save him. He is a friendly pig, but also prone to anxiety.
- Debbie Reynolds as Charlotte A. Cavatica, a spider who lives in a corner of Homer's barn above Wilbur's pig pen. She is very loving and motherly, but sometimes grows frustrated at Wilbur's anxiety issues. At the end of the film, she dies after laying 514 eggs, but three of them decide to stay with Wilbur.
- Paul Lynde as Templeton, a care-free, egotistical rat who lives at Homer's farm. He helps Charlotte get new ideas for her webs on the condition that he is promised food. In the sequel, he has four bratty children of his own: Henrietta, Lester, Ralphie, and Junior.
- Agnes Moorehead as the Goose, an unnamed goose who is the one that encourages Wilbur to speak for the first time. Her seven goslings later hatch, although there were actually eight eggs (one was rotten). In the sequel, she was named Gwen.
- Herb Vigran as Lurvy, Homer's assissant who is the first to notice the messages in Charlotte's webs.
- Don Messick as Jeffrey, a young gosling whom Wilbur befriends.
- Pamelyn Ferdin as Fern Arable, the daughter of John who convinces him to share Wilbur's life.
- Martha Scott as Mrs. Arable, Fern's mother who first tells her of what was going to happen to Wilbur.
- Bob Holt as Homer Zuckerman, Fern's uncle.
- John Stephenson as John Arable, Fern's father. He was about to "do away" with Wilbur until she intervened.
- Danny Bonaduce as Avery Arable, Fern's brother.
- William B. White as Henry Fussy, a boy of about Fern's age, whom she soon starts spending time with while Wilbur is at the fair.
- Dave Madden as the Ram, one of the first animals Wilbur meets at Homer's farm. He is the first to tell Wilbur that it is a pig's fate to be slaughted and turned into smoked bacon and ham. Madden also voiced other characters in the film.
- Joan Gerber as Edith Zuckerman, Homer's wife. She comes up with the idea of giving Wilbur a buttermilk bath. Gerber also voiced Mrs. Fussy, Henry's stern mother who never lets him have fun.
- Rex Allen as the Narrator
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).[unreliable source?] 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 the film was made. Also, Ferdin and Lynde both appeared on The Paul Lynde Show, another ABC sitcom created to fill the contract of Bewitched Bonaduce, Lynde, Gerber, Messick and Stephenson had previously worked for Hanna-Barbera in their television shows: Lynde appeared in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop (uncredited), Bonaduce and Gerber were stars in Partridge Family 2200 A.D., and Stephenson and Messick were Hanna-Barbera regulars who regularly lent their voices to many of their shows.
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Barbera wrote that Debbie Reynolds called him and said that she was willing to join the project even without being paid.
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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.
The film was first released on VHS in 1979, followed by three more releases in 1988, 1993, and 1996. It made its DVD debut in 2001. A second DVD release of it was released in 2006.
The film received generally positive reviews. Review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes reported that it has a 75% approval rating based on 20 reviews, with an average score of 6.6/10. 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". 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." Christopher Null of Filmcritic.com stated that the animation is sometimes "downright bad", but that White's classic fable needs little to make it come to life. When it was reissued on DVD it was awarded an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award.
E.B. White's reaction
According to Gene Deitch, 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..." 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." He had previously turned down Disney when they offered to make a film based on his book. According to its writer Earl Hamner Jr., White (who sometimes offered advice and suggestions to the filmmakers) would have preferred Mozart in it, rather than the music of the Sherman Brothers.
A direct-to-video sequel entitled Charlotte's Web 2: Wilbur's Great Adventure was released in 2003. It centers on Wilbur's relationship with a lonely lamb named Cardigan, and also shows Charlotte's children as adolescents. Reviews for it were generally unfavorable, with critics panning its animation and plot.
- "There Must Be Something More"
- "I Can Talk!"
- "Chin Up!"
- "We've Got Lots In Common"
- "Deep In The Dark/Charlotte's Web"
- "Mother Earth and Father Time"
- "A Veritable Smorgasbord"
- "Zuckerman's Famous Pig"
"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. 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.
- "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, January 9, 1974, pg 19.
- 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.
- Gene Deitch (2001). "How to Succeed in Animation: Chapter 29: The Charlotte Papers". Animation World Network. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
- Gene Deitch (2001). "How to Succeed in Animation: Chapter 30: Charlotte’s Web Graphics". Animation World Network. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
- "Charlotte's Web (1973) - Rotten Tomatoes". Flixster. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
- Butler, Craig. "Charlotte’s Web: Review". All-Movie Guide. Macrovision Corporation. Retrieved January 28, 2009.
- Jardine, Dan. "Charlotte's Web". Apollo Guide. Apollo Communications Ltd. Retrieved January 28, 2009.
- Null, Christopher (2001). "Charlotte's Web (1973)". Filmcritic.com. Retrieved January 28, 2009.
- "Early School Years: Feature-Length Films". Oppenheim Toy Portfolio. Retrieved April 22, 2009.
- "AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot" (PDF). Retrieved June 25, 2011.
- Gene Deitch (2001). "How to Succeed in Animation: Chapter 28: A Tangled Web". Animation World Network. Retrieved September 27, 2008.
- Burr, Ty (December 10, 2006). "Bard of the barn". The Boston Globe. Retrieved September 27, 2008.
- 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.
- Holleran, Scott (December 22, 2006). "Interview: Earl Hamner". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 16, 2008.
- Richard Chigley Lynch (June 26, 1989). Movie Musicals on Record. ISBN 978-0-313-26540-2.
- Kim Cooper; David Smay; Jake Austen (June 1, 2001). Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth. ISBN 978-0-922915-69-9.
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