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Paramount Studios presents

Charlotte's Web (1973)

"Salutations means greetings. It's my fancy way of saying hello."- Charlotte A. Cavatica (Debbie Reynolds)

Stars: Debbie Reynolds, Paul Lynde, Henry Gibson
Other Stars: Rex Allen, Pam Ferdin, Agnes Moorehead, Danny Bonaduce, Don Messick
Director: Charles Nichols, Iwao Takamoto

Manufacturer: Panasonic Disc Services Corp.
MPAA Rating: G for (issues of life and death in nature and on the farm)
Run Time: 01h:33m:11s
Release Date: 2001-06-19
Genre: fantasy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-D+C+ C-


DVD Review

E.B. White's book Charlotte's Web was an instant classic of the meaning of friendship, as well as the realities of life and death in nature and on the farm. Hanna-Barbera, in conjunction with Japanese animators, brings the book to the screen in a decent adaptation.

When a runt pig is born on John Arabel's farm, daughter Fern (Pamelyn Ferdin) intercedes and saves the pig's life. Fern raises him and names him Wilbur (Henry Gibson), but soon suffers the disappointment of having him sold down the road to Homer Zuckerman. There in the barnyard, Wilbur makes friends with the various animals, most notably Charlotte the Spider (Debbie Reynolds), Templeton the Rat (Paul Lynde) and the Goose (Agnes Moorehead). When Wilbur learns that in the fall he will be turned into ham and bacon, it is up to Charlotte to use her web to save her friend's life.

The adaptation is rather simplified from White's text, mainly to make room for the songs that were considered a necessity of any animated feature. However, the most important of White's themes about friendship and self-sacrifice, and the grimness of reality in life and death, survive in a fairly palatable form that shouldn't disturb most children. The songs are mostly forgettable, even though they are by the talented team of Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, most noted for Mary Poppins. The main title song, however, is hauntingly gorgeous, set to a harpsichord that precisely captures the magic and delicacy of the spider's web.

The voice talent is quite good. Reynolds brings a sparkly positivism to the spider, even in the darkest moments. Henry Gibson, best known from TV's Laugh-In makes a good young pig, and Paul Lynde is perfectly cast as the gluttonous and self-centered rat, Templeton. Fern is played by Pamelyn Ferdin, the child actress who was ubiquitous on television during the late 1960s and early 1970s; fittingly enough for this film, she is today a prominent animal rights activist.

The animation is decent for a 1970s production, and the backgrounds are often gorgeous in the old-fashioned grand manner. Cost-saving efforts and a couple of bits of repeated animation are evident, but the quality of the animation is far beyond that usually seen on television. The character design is typical Disney-esque anthropomorphism. An admirable job is done of making Charlotte charming and attractive, despite the natural queasiness that many have about spiders.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is the first release of Charlotte's Web in the original aspect ratio on any home video format, for which applause is deserved. Paramount uses a high bit rate of 6-8 mBps and an RSDL disc to squeeze as much quality out of the picture as possible. The linework is very crisp and sharp, and the color is generally very good, though it occasionally flickers and is unstable. Now, the bad news. Certain colors, most notably pink and white, have grey markings on them throughout that looks as if they are slightly mildewed on the animation cels. This is highly distracting at times, particularly in the first half of the picture. Speckling, dirt and hairs abound, and in chapter 9 there is a vertical yellow line that appears and disappears several times. There is also a brief section after the pig is declared "radiant" that is blurry and looks like a patch from a low-quality source. This is highly disappointing for a piece of animation that's not even 30 years old. The mildew-type spots may have been on the original release prints, because they also appear on the theatrical trailer. That doesn't mean they couldn't and shouldn't have been digitally cleaned up here, however. The framing appears slightly off as well; on occasion the tops of heads are lopped off, indicating that there is some cropping at the top of the picture.

Image Transfer Grade: D+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono audio is generally clear and undistorted, with decent range, though bass is quite lacking. There is a noticeable hiss throughout the film. The French track sounds echo-y and muffled in comparison to the English track and will probably disappoint French speakers.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+ 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:51m:42s

Extra Extras:
  1. "Meet the Animals" game and notes on the animals
Extras Review: An anamorphic widescreen trailer is included, though it is extremely grainy and hard to look at. The movie has a well-placed layer change at a fade to black that will be unnoticed by most.

A feature to meet the animals of the barnyard is included. One can either go to the animal, hear its sound and learn some information about it, or play a game where you must identify the animal, based on the sound heard. There's not a lot of repeat value here, but very young children may enjoy it if they're able to navigate the remote properly.

Extras Grade: C-

Final Comments

That's some pig. The source material is lacking in several respects, though transferred well. Restoration should have been done, really. Entertaining for parents and children alike, this will be a good addition to the family DVD library.

Mark Zimmer 2001-06-19