Saturday, August 29, 2015

On DVD: Charlotte's Web (1973)

It's said that E. B. White wasn't fond of Hanna-Barbera & Paramount's adaptation of his 1952 book, Charlotte's Web. He'd wanted Gene Deitch to do the adaptation, but Paramount opted for H-B. The problem? The movie was a musical, with songs composed by Richard & Robert Sherman of "Mary Poppins" fame.

I remember reading the book, and until now, I hadn't seen the movie. Now I know why White was so upset. The songs disrupt the flow of the story. You see, back then, studios believed that an animated movie needed to be a musical. I'd seen "Snoopy Come Home" and Disney's "Peter Pan" & "Cinderella", and in each case, the songs were placed in a proper context. Not so here. While the songs are fun and fine, they surface abruptly.

I think we've all read the story at one time. To summarize the plot as quickly as possible, farmer John Arable (John Stephenson) decides that a newborn pig, the runt of his, well, litter, needs to be put down. Daughter Fern (Pamelyn Ferdin, The Paul Lynde Show, The Roman Holidays, ex-Curiosity Shop) objects, and pleads with her father to let her raise the runt as a pet, whom she christened Wilbur. After six weeks, Wilbur, now grown, is sold to Fern's uncle, Homer Zuckerman. With the encouragement of a chatty goose (Agnes Moorehead, ex-Bewitched), Wilbur (Henry Gibson, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In) discovers that he, too, can talk. He's soon befriended by Charlotte, a spider (Debbie Reynolds), who promises to save Wilbur from being turned into bacon & pork chops. Her plan? Convince Zuckerman through messages woven in her web that Wilbur is a special pig. Adding to the fun is Templeton, a rat, who reluctantly helps Charlotte with her messages. Unsurprisingly, Paul Lynde lends his voice to Templeton in his final performance for H-B. The cast also includes The Partridge Family's Danny Bonaduce (as Avery, Fern's brother) and Dave Madden.

Scope out the trailer:

To be honest, I have to agree with White. The songs do disrupt the flow of the movie, as if jolted by a bolt of lightning. Then again, I wasn't too fond of certain songs in "Snoopy Come Home", either.

Rating: B--.

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