Monday, December 18, 2006

Family Movies--- Charlotte's Web and Happy Feet

There are of course a plethora of movies out at Christmas, and the one must see movie for Christians is surely "the Nativity", but if there is time and interest in more what shall one do?

Well for sure don't take the children to "Apocalypto" its way too gory and violent even for some adults. But seriously, there are some options. My personal first choice would be the screen version of the much beloved children's story "Charlotte's Web". With a fine cast which includes Dakota Fanning, Beau Bridges, Julia Roberts as the voice of Charlotte and Robert Redford as the voice of Ike the horse, and a plethora of other celebrity voices, this is certainly the pick of the litter, so to speak.

Doing a screen version of a beloved children's story is tricky, and there has been some complaint that this wasn't done completely in CG, but in my estimation it is much better as it is with real human actors involved. The story has much more of a feeling of reality this way.

The story of course centers on one bright and cute little pig, and in this regard the director has taken some hints from movies like "Babe" in regard to comic turns and what works. Dakota Fanning is clearly excellent with animals (remember "Because of Winn Dixie") and she is even better in this movie than in her previous ones.

The movie version of Charlotte's Web is interesting and heart warming for a lot of reason, and it is interesting to contrast it with "Happy Feet" in the way it portrays Christianity. In Charlotte's Web the vicar affirms that miracles do indeed happen (all the while handing out candy-- 'divinity' naturally) whereas in "Happy Feet" the voice of the elders (penguins) sounds like a censorious holiness fundamentalist who can't tolerate dancing and associates it with sin. Religion in that movie is associated with narrow mindedness, false beliefs, and prejudice which stands foresquare against fun and love and romance and dancing.

Charlotte's Web is in a sense an old timey movie, though when it was written it would never have been possible to make this movie in this way. We have an affirmation of all sorts of traditional values: 1) the wholesome life on a farm; 2) the innocent fun of going to a fair, entering your animal in a contest, enjoying the rides; 3) life in small town and rural Maine, where a curiosity like words in a spider web will draw a crowd, just like seeing the image of Jesus in a shape on a barn. But the heart of the movie is all about sacrifice, friendship and love and it is carefully told. The pathos of the book has not been bleached out or left out in the movie (so take a few kleenexes when you go). In this movie, traditional values seem a natural part of the landscape, but what about the message of "Happy Feet"?

As much as I enjoy CG, and sometimes the humor of Robin Williams, and of course the cuteness of penguins and puffins, this movie is a mess in terms of plot and story telling. It is one part morality play (we must find the aliens who are stealing the penguins' fish and runing the eco-system of Antarctica), one part March of the Penguins revisted, one part Eight Below revisited, one part Broadway Musical and Conga line revisited (only with soul and rock music instead), one part romance (which gets lost along the way).

This movie doesn't know what it wants to be or say, or at least cannot stick to the subject. Some of the scenes of the puffins and Mumbles the Penguin with the puffins as Hispanic macho men (and here Robin Williams shines) are pretty funny. And some of the message about "its o.k. to be different" is fine and not too heavy handed, at least at first. But even at under two hours this movie trudges along from rejection by the penguins, to time with the puffins, to trip through the blizzard, to being captured and taken to some aquarium in the U.S. and then back to Antarctica once more. While I am as pro ecology as anyone, this movie is a bit too preachy in the wrong way for children.

So, go see a movie about a spring pig that manages not to become ham and bacon at Christmas, rather than about preachy penguins who sing and dance better than humans in 'A Chorus Line' or "Tommy: the Rock Opera". Why not get caught up in Charlotte's web rather than led on a cold wild goose chase with dancin fools?


Reel Fanatic said...

I stayed away from Charlotte's Web last weekend out of fear that they would just butcher this beloved story, but it sounds like my fears were unfounded .. thanks for the heads up!

Ben Witherington said...

No butchering here, in fact it has an Andy of Mayberry kind of feel--- it seems like a movie from an earlier era.

Glen Woods said...

I have never read Charlotte's Web in my life, so this was my first exposure to the story. I had no idea on what I have been missing all these years. I agree with your assessment. It is a terrific movie. For me it was especially timely, since one of the children whom I pastored for several years just died at the age of nine from heart failure. It was a potent reminder of how precious our kids are.

Bill said...

I took my daughter to see Charlotte's web and loved it -- except for Julia Roberts voice. Debbie Reynolds was much more effective in the 1973 animated version

ClydeG said...


Thanks for the movie reviews. I will be taking my daughter to see Charlotte's Web. She loves farm animals and a good story, so I think she will like this film. Personally, I'm looking forward to reading your review on the latest Rocky movie. I would really appreciate it if you could tell us why we American males so connect with this boxer from Philly.

Merry Christmas,
Clyde G.

bobbie said...

thanks for the head's up on CW, after taking my kids to HF i must say i was gun-shy... we live in a community that makes it's living off of fishing and the sea - i was waiting for someone to start yelling at the screen or grab their kids and walk out.

i didn't see it so much as pro-ecology as anti-fisherman. they made no distinction between the man trying to eek out a living from the sea and the vessels from afar raping the sea for everything they can carry back to their homeland.

it was like they needed an enemy or a foil to keep the movie going. if they had cut it in half i would have loved it - the end was forced, manipulative and almost painful to watch.

we'll be seeing CW this weekend - thanks for the review!

Laura C said...

I saw Charlotte's Web, and loved it! I also saw Happy Feet, and on several occasions was ready to take my 6 year old daughter out of the theatre due to the intense sexual innuendo. How come the censors missed it? Getting with a female penguin and "loving her up real good..." to name just one of many references, was completely unnecessary in a PG movie. Not once did the reviews mention "adult humor". Madagascar had adult humor. Happy Feet was quietly selling sex. Missed it? Try taking a 6 year old girl to Happy Feet, and keep your ears (and eyes) open. Especially notice the "posing" of the penguins as the main character and his love interest slipped and "fell" several times on the ice. You'll notice a few rather, (ahem) "adult" poses.