E.B. Whites beloved childrens tale is brought to life in this animated film, which finds the young farm pig Wilbur (Henry Gibson) attempting to avoid a dire fate. Of all the barnyard creatures, Wilburs staunchest ally is Charlotte (Debbie Reynolds), a thoughtful spider who devises an intriguing plan to keep the gentle little swine out of the slaughterhouse. Although Charlottes efforts, which involve words written in her delicate web, seem far-fetched, they may just work.
Charlottes Web is a 1973 American animated musical film produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions and Sagittarius Productions and based upon the 1952 childrens book of the same name by E. B. White. The film, like the book, is about a pig named Wilbur who befriends an intelligent spider named Charlotte who saves him from being slaughtered and was distributed to theatres by Paramount Pictures on March 1, 1973. It is the first of only three Hanna-Barbera features not based upon one of their famous television cartoons — Heidis Song (1982) and Once Upon a Forest (1993) being the other two — and was a moderate critical and commercial success.
The song score of lyrics and music was written by the Sherman Brothers, who had previously written music for family films like Mary Poppins (1964), The Jungle Book (1967), and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).
The film has found a devoted following over the years due to television and VHS; in 1994 it surprised the marketplace by becoming one of the best-selling titles of the year, 21 years after its first premiere. No other non-Disney musical animated film has enjoyed such a comeback in popularity, prompting a direct-to-video sequel, Charlottes Web 2: Wilburs Great Adventure, which Paramount released in the US on March 18, 2003 (Universal released the film internationally), followed by a live-action film version of the original story, which was released on December 15, 2006.
Wilbur the pig is scared of the end of the season, because he knows that come that time, he will end up on the dinner table. He hatches a plan with Charlotte, a spider that lives in his pen, to ensure that this will never happen.
Early one morning, Fern Arable (Pamelyn Ferdin) prevents her father (John Stephenson) from slaughtering a piglet as the runt of the litter. Deciding to let her daughter deal with nurturing a pig, John Arable spares the piglet, and allows her daughter to raise it as a pet. Fern nurtures it lovingly, naming it Wilbur. Six weeks later, Wilbur, due to being a spring pig, has matured, and John decides to sell Wilbur to Ferns uncle, Homer Zuckerman (Bob Holt). At the farm, Wilbur (Henry Gibson) speaks his first words, though he is left yearning for companionship, and attempts to get Templeton (Paul Lynde) and the goose (Agnes Moorehead) to play with him, though they refuse. Wilbur then wants a lamb to play with him, though the lambs father (Dave Madden) says sheep dont play with pigs because its only a matter of time before he will be slaughtered, and turned into smoked bacon and ham. Wilbur reduces himself to tears until a mysterious voice tells him to "chin up", and wait until the morning to reveal herself to him. The next morning, the voice sings a song about "chinning up", and reveals herself to be a Araneus cavaticus named Charlotte (Debbie Reynolds), living on a web overlooking Wilburs enclosure. Charlotte tells Wilbur that she will come with a plan guaranteed to spare his life.
After Wilbur makes friend with a young gosling named Jeffrey (Don Messick), Charlotte reveals her plan to "pay a trick on Zuckerman", and consoles Wilbur to sleep. The next morning, Zuckermans farm assistant sees the words, SOME PIG, spun within Charlottes web. The incident attracts publicity among Zuckermans neighbors who attribute the praise to a divine intervention. The publicity eventually dies down, and Charlotte requests the barn animals to devise a new word to spin within her cobweb. After several suggestions, the goose suggests the phrase, TERRIFIC! TERRIFIC! TERRIFIC!, though Charlotte decides to shorten it to one TERRIFIC. The incident becomes another media sensation, though Zuckerman still desires to slaughter Wilbur. For the next message, Charlotte then employs Templeton to pull a word from a magazine clipping for inspiration, in which Templeton returns the word, RADIANT, ripped from a soap box to spin within her cobweb. Following this, Zuckerman decides to enter Wilbur into the county fair for the summer. Charlotte decides to accompany Wilbur, though Templeton is reluctant until he is convinced by the goose about the food at the fair. After one night at the fair, Charlotte sends Templeton on another errand to gather another word for her next message, in which Templeton returns with the word, HUMBLE. The next morning, Wilbur awakens to find Charlotte has spun an egg sac containing her unborn offspring, and the following afternoon, the word, HUMBLE, is spun. However, Avery (Danny Bonaduce) discovers another pig named Uncle has won first place, though the county fair staff decides to hold a celebration in honor of Zuckermans miraculous pig, and rewards Zuckerman $25 and a gold metal. Zuckerman then announces that he will allow Wilbur to live.
Exhausted from laying eggs and messages, Charlotte tells Wilbur she will remain at the fair to die. Following her soothing song of "Mother Earth and Father Time", Wilbur has Templeton to retrieve Charlottes egg sac to take back to the farm, and Charlotte dies soon after. Having returned to Zuckermans farm, Wilbur guards Charlottes egg sac until the winter. The next spring, Charlottes 5,000 children are hatched, and leave the farm causing Wilbur to become saddened though three of Charlottes daughters stay behind. Pleased at finding new friends, Wilbur names the spiderlings Joy, Nellie, and Aranea, and the story concludes mentioning that more generations of spiders kept him company in subsequent years.Debbie Reynolds as Charlotte A. Cavatica
Henry Gibson as Wilbur
Paul Lynde as Templeton
Rex Allen as the Narrator
Herb Vigran as Lurvy
Don Messick as Jeffrey
Martha Scott as Mrs. Arable
Bob Holt as Homer Zuckerman
Pamelyn Ferdin as Fern Arable
John Stephenson as John Arable
William B. White as Henry Fussy
Agnes Moorehead as the Goose
Danny Bonaduce as Avery Arable
Dave Madden as the Ram and others
Joan Gerber as Edith Zuckerman and Mrs. Fussy
Five members of the cast (Henry Gibson, Paul Lynde, Agnes Moorehead, Danny Bonaduce, and Dave Madden) had previously appeared on the ABC television situation comedy Bewitched (1964-1972). Hanna-Barbera also animated the opening credits of the show. However, Bonaduce and Madden are more well known for their roles on another ABC-TV sitcom, The Partridge Family (1970-1974), which was still in production when this film was made.
After the studio decided to make the film, Joe Barbera visited E. B. White in Maine. White highlighted parts of the book he did not want changed, and parts "subject to discussion."
Barbera wrote that Debbie Reynolds called him and said that she was willing to join the project even without being paid.
The film was released to theaters on March 1, 1973, by Paramount Pictures in the United States. It had a limited release on February 22, 1973, in New York City, and also released in West Germany on March 30, 1973, as well as August 11 in Sweden, August 25 in Japan, and September 4, 1981 in Australia.
The film was released on DVD on June 19, 2001.
Charlottes Web received generally positive reviews. Review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes reported that the film has a 75% fresh rating. Craig Butler of All-Movie Guide criticized the animation and the musical score, but called it a faithful adaptation, noting that, “no attempt has been made to soften the existential sadness at the storys core”. Dan Jardine criticized the songs and the “Saturday morning cartoon quality” of the animation, but also says that Hamner “retains just enough of White’s elegant prose in the dialogue and narration to keep the film from being simply a painfully well-intended experiment.” Christopher Null of Filmcritic.com stated that the animation is sometimes “downright bad,” but that E.B. Whites classic fable needs little to make it come to life. When it was reissued on DVD the film was awarded an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award.
The film was nominated for AFIs 10 Top 10 in the "Animation" genre.
According to Gene Deitch, a director of animation and friend of E. B. White, Mrs. White wrote the following words in a 1977 letter, "We have never ceased to regret that your version of Charlottes Web never got made. The Hanna-Barbera version has never pleased either of us...a travesty..." E. B. White himself wrote of the film, "The story is interrupted every few minutes so that somebody can sing a jolly song. I dont care much for jolly songs. The Blue Hill Fair, which I tried to report faithfully in the book, has become a Disney World, with 76 trombones. But thats what you get for getting embroiled in Hollywood." White had previously turned down Disney when they offered to make a film based on Charlottes Web. According to the films writer Earl Hamner Jr., Mrs. White (who sometimes offered advice and suggestions to the filmmakers) would have preferred Mozart in the film, rather than the music of the Sherman Brothers.
Main Title (2:02)
- "Chin Up"
- "I Can Talk!"
- "A Veritable Smorgasbord"
- "Zuckermans Famous Pig"
- "Weve Got Lots In Common"
- "Mother Earth and Father Time"
- "There Must Be Something More"
- "Deep In The Dark/Charlottes Web"
There Must Be Something More (2:11)
I Can Talk (2:14)
Chin Up (2:09)
Mother Earth and Father Time (2:27)
Weve Got Lots in Common (2:20)
A Veritable Smorgasbord (3:53)
Deep in the Dark (3:16)
Chin Up March (1:44)
Zuckermans Famous Pig (2:00)
Charlottes Farewell (Mother Earth and Father Time) (1:18)
End Title (2:09)
Charlottes Web and Charlottes Web 2: Wilburs Great Adventure are part of the same movie series. Joseph Barbera produced Charlottes Web and wrote the screenplay for Heidis Song. Mary Poppins (1964). The Jungle Book (1967). Babe (1995).
"Zuckermans Famous Pig" is the title that saves Wilbur, the pig hero, from being slaughtered in the story. It is the theme of the finale song in the film. It was composed and arranged in a barbershop quartet style by the Sherman Brothers, in keeping with the time and place of the story. It was covered by the Brady Kids and was chosen for release on their first single taken from The Brady Bunch Phonographic Album by producer Jackie Mills.