We took the kids to see Charlotte’s Web last night as we round out the long Christmas break. It has been a couple years since I read it to my daughter, and my son is still slogging through Stuart Little but I’ve read it and seen the old animated version enough to know that I would probably cry. Of course, I did. My daughter cried too--because, as you know, the spider dies. She asked me if that was why I was crying. "Not really," I said, "though knowing that certainly adds to my tears." It was interesting to see that she sensed there was something more to my tears because they came at two different points in the story than hers did: when Charlotte tells Wilbur that his friendship made her (a spider, of all things!) beautiful and when Wilbur reflects that it’s not often you come across a good friend who is also a good writer. "Charlotte was both," he says to emphasize the rarity and the treasure of it.
I love that book because it very cleverly teaches a very grown up lesson about the transformative powers of love and and the need for and treasure of friendship in a way that children can grasp and even as adults can return to again and again.
The new movie is, by the way, a worthwhile effort and suitable for all ages. It does, however, walk very awkwardly between two time periods--the early 60s or late 50s (?) and the present. It was hard to tell when it was supposed to be as the wardrobe and settings seemed alternately retro and current. Adults may find that distracting, but kids wont notice. Certainly the scene with the kids riding standing up in the back of the truck would not fly in the current times! (I saw more than a few mothers eyebrows raised indignantly at the prospect and then soften--probably as they remembered with fondness doing something very similar!) The ad-lib humor was decidedly not E.B. White’s--and often involved the obligatory jokes about bodily functions and other gross-out things that kids these days seem to favor (though perhaps they always did favor them--its just a new thing to pander to it). The crows, I must admit, were quite funny and, if not strictly from the book, added to rather than distracted from Templeton’s story line. I missed all the music ("Fine swine, wish he was mine, so what if hes not so big . . .") that was a part of the old animated classic and I guess, if I had to pick between the two films, I still favor the original for that reason. But I see no real reason to choose if you can have them both and, of course, read the book. As I said above, this is a story you can come to again and again. (As I will and cry every time I do it!)