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Oh what a tangled web we weave: I need a hanky - or at least my sleeve!
on 31 August 2015
I had assumed that the 'U' rating given to this 1973 movie would have meant it would be safe viewing for everybody. Mind you I notice that, on the actual box, there's a warning that it 'contains a bereavement theme'. Oh my crikey, does it ever.
A word of warning of my own here: if this film can reduce a 44-year old man to tears (albeit one who is, admittedly, of somewhat dubious quality) then I fear for the mascara on the rest of you, that's all I can say.
I really ought to have known better too, because E.B. White's classic novel was read to me many, many years ago... presumably by someone who was keen for me to not be afraid of spiders. Or by someone who wanted the nightmares I had about spiders to have an even more psychologically complicated edge to them.
Not only that, but I was flicking through my little relatives' copy of the work not very long ago at all and, when I got to the line 'No one was with her when she died', I had to make up some excuse about trapping my fingers in the toilet seat in order to explain away the floods of tears. Oh heaven help us, I'm snivelling away now just thinking about it.
I can't imagine I'd have fared any better had I never clapped eyes on the blessed book to begin with. For all this film's phenomenal charm, there is that constant undercurrent of death wherever you look.
However, it is also a celebration of life. And, after all, you can't have one of those without the other. And at least the film has a wonderfully catchy score to go along with it courtesy of the Sherman Brothers. I know they're probably most famous for 'Mary Poppins' but, for me, the 'Charlotte's Web' soundtrack is far more reminiscent of their work on 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' - with the additional bonus of having nobody called Truly Scrumptious (or whatever her name was) yelling her head off and ruining some otherwise rather lovely music.
The cast of this movie are all excellent, with absolutely no exceptions. Debbie Reynolds' Charlotte is such a touching creation... although much of that is undoubtedly down to her animators who, very wisely I would say, decided to send six of her eyes off on their holidays for the duration of this movie. I hope the spider world is proud to have her speaking up for them and working her PR wonders. I always turf my eight-legged burglars out with the aid of a coaster and a glass anyway but, after seeing this film, I might have to rethink even that. I'd hate to think of Princess Leia's mum coming to any harm as she skydives out of my bedroom window.
Henry Gibson's Wilbur is cute almost beyond words. I recently decided to give vegetarianism a go, largely as a result of making the acquaintance of a couple of pigs who might otherwise have ended up as bacon. The thought of something as adorable as Wilbur ending up on my dinner-plate is enough to make me want to swear off pork scratchings for life.
I'm going to have to assume that anyone contemplating the purchase of this film will already have some idea of the story - not least because I genuinely don't know how I'd even begin to try and explain it all without wrecking it for everyone anyway. At the heart of it though, there is a beautiful story of true friendship. And it's even more touching in animated form than it is in the book.
I was toying with the idea of giving this to my two little relatives (aged 7 and 10) but three things are going to stop me from doing that. First, I don't want their mother thinking I'm the sort of uncle who gets a kick out of making her children cry; second, if she wants to provide the tissues and handkerchiefs, she can find the whole film (as of August 2015 at least) in its entirety on a certain video-sharing site. And third, I sent for the movie because it features the voice of the late Paul Lynde who, if you give me a minute first to get a shot of testosterone and a copy of my marriage certificate (unless that's going to make me look even worse...?), I am proud to say is my latest man-crush. His performance here, as Templeton the Rat, is deliciously seedy and provides some very welcome comic relief.
Agnes Moorehead's 'Goose' is just as wonderful and the interaction between the two of them is a classy little homage to 'Bewitched', where they played opposite one another so brilliantly as Endora and Uncle Arthur. Their duet version of 'A Veritable Smorgasbord' is a delight - and that song, in any of its forms, is one of the catchiest things I've ever heard.
The film is about 90 minutes long and comes with five different audio soundtracks (English, Czech, German, Hungarian and Turkish) and is equipped with the following subtitles: English for the hearing impaired, English (is there a difference?!), Arabic, Bulgarian, Czech, Finnish, German, Hungarian, Icelandic, Polish, Romanian and Turkish. The only other Extra is a Theatrical Trailer for the film itself.
Given the subject material, this is a thoroughly well-made film. To call it 'enjoyable' might be a bit of a stretch, but the music is marvellous and the cast are SO good, that it's worth shedding a few buckets' worth of tears over.