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Charlotte's Web is a classic children's novel written by E.B. White, known also for works such as Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan and illustrated by Garth Williams. The work is focused on a young pig named Wilbur, who, being the runt of the litter, is about to be slaughtered. However, his "owners" daughter, Fern, manages to save him and she raises him to be a strong healthy pig. However this means that he is sent down to a different farm, where he is being grown to be slaughtered for food. Determined to help, his spider friend Charlotte launches a campaign to save him. Reading the words brought to her on scraps from the rat Templeton, she begins weaving a series of words and phrases into her web, including "Radiant," "Terrific" and "Some Pig." Word spreads of these miraculous messages, but will it be enough to save Wilbur?
The novel, first published in 1952, has gained widespread acclaim and fame. It earned a Newbery Honor award, the Laura Ingall Wilders Medal (in conjunction with Stuart Little and has sold more than 45 million copies.
The story was first adapted as a cartoon in 1973. It was released by by Hanna-Barbera Productions and Sagittarius Productions and featured music by the Sherman Brothers (Winnie the Pooh, Mary Poppins). The film was reasonably well-reviewed by critics (74% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), though endured some complaints regarding the quality of the animation and the music. Notably, E.B. White himself was disappointed by the film. This did not stop it from becoming a popular success, enjoying strong popularity on VHS and television.
A follow-up to the cartoon, Charlotte's Web 2: Wilbur's Great Adventure, was released in 2003, Direct to Video, to celebrate the 30th anniversary.
In 2006, another adaptation was made, this time live-action. This one was Certified Fresh by Rotten Tomatoes, thanks in part to remaining largely faithful to the source material and also, in part, due to a moving score by Danny Elfman. A video game based on this film was released for computer, Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS and was reasonably well-reviewed, avoiding The Problem with Licensed Games.
Not to be confused with Babe, which also features a pig in a prominent role and many of the same themes, but has no spider character.
Some tropes seen in either the books or the films include:
- Babies Ever After: Although Charlotte dies and most of her offspring leave the farm, three of her daughters remain. And (in the 2000s film) found a whole dynasty of barn spiders.
- Also, the ending of the 1973 film brings a host of new babies to the farm animals -- even Templeton.
- Balloon Belly: Templeton, seen in both the original novel's Garth Williams illustrations, and (to even greater excess) in the animated version.
- Big Eater: Templeton, again! Man, oh, man!
- Especially since a fair is a veritable smorgasbord-orgasbord-orgasbord.
- Bittersweet Ending: While Wilbur lives, Charlotte dies soon after the fair, yet her children live on.
- Casting Gag: Templeton is voiced by openly gay Paul Lynde. It's an In Joke that he makes an embarrassed giggle when he's followed by a troupe of baby rats.
- Death by Newbery Medal: Or Newbery Honor, anyway. Charlotte
- Death Song: The second version of "Mother Earth and Father Time", from the 1973 animated film.
- Disappeared Dad: Charlotte has 514 children and their father is neither mentioned nor seen. Given the courtship habits of barn spiders, this is probably for the best.
- Disney Acid Sequence: The scene where Templeton sneaks around the fairgrounds at night in the '73 film. This isn't actually too far off the mark from what actually happens.
- Disneyfication: This is what the original author felt the 1973 movie had subjected his story to.
- Down on the Farm
- Dying Alone: Charlotte, although in the 1973 film Wilbur, who lives, was there with her.
- Freudian Slip: Fern accidentally says "Wilbur" when the teacher asks her what the capital of Pennsylvania state is.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Children learn in the book that people will believe anything they see in print. A subtle satirical Author Tract from Charlotte.
- Hair of Gold: Fern as played by Dakota Fanning in the 2006 film.
- Messy Pig: Type 2--Sanitary Swine. Or as sanitary as he can be, considering he sleeps on an enormous pile of manure.
- Played with when Wilbur has to go to the fair. The goose advises Wilbur to struggle with being put in a crate. Wilbur's objection that it'll make him messy (after he'd just had a buttermilk bath by Mrs. Zuckerman) is overruled by the goose warning him if he doesn't struggle, they'll assume something is wrong with him and leave him behind.
- The Power of Friendship
- The Runt At the End: Wilbur
- Say My Name: In the 1973 film version, after Charlotte passes away:
Wilbur: Charlotte? Charlotte?? CHARLOTTE!!!
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Charlotte (at least from Wilbur's perspective). Likely as not, her vocabulary introduced a lot of young readers to words like "languishing", "radiant", "versatile", and "salutations."
- Speaks Fluent Animal: Fern is able to understand what the animals are saying when they talk to each other, although she is not shown speaking to them.
- Speech Impediment: The g-g-goose has a rather pronounced stutter-utter-utter.
- Spiders Are Scary: Averted.
- Tough Love: In the book, Charlotte is much stricter on Wilbur than either of the movies, and isn't above snapping at him or scolding him -- or anyone else in the barnyard, for that matter.
- Verbal Tic: The geese tend to repeat their own words as they talk.
Gander: It's my idio-idio-idiosyncracy.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to the gosling that wanted to be a pig?
- What's in It For Me?: It's a continued theme in at least the animated movie that Templeton repeatedly asks this question, and is repeatedly answered with very strong incentives. One has to wonder why Templeton hasn't learned to expect it.
- Only once is Templeton not threatened - and that's the final time with promises of miles of food at the fair.
- You Dirty Rat: Templeton is a dirty, gluttonous, selfish Jerkass. However, he's basically a good guy.