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Charlotte's Web: Teaching Kids the Subject of Death
Animated Film Version Drives Home Message of Book.
When it comes to the subject of death a parent may find it hard to explain this event to kids. However, it is an inevitable part of life itself. Perhaps this is one of the reason the EB White children's novel Charlotte's Web remains such a beloved story. So, beloved that it has hit the big screen not once but twice. Most recently in 2006 with a live action version of the story. However, the one that remains so endeared to me and the one I grew up watching was the 1976 animated version.
All the elements of the story which I have also read are present in this version. The pig Wilbur being saved by a young girl name Fern after he is born a runt. Wilbur being sold to a farm down the road at six weeks old and of course him being befriended there by a spider name Charlotte who lives in his shiloh. The main theme of the book and the movie than becomes about Charlotte wanting to spar Wilbur the fate that be falls most pigs and that is being slaughtered. She goes about making Wilbur into a local celebrity by spinning praise for him in her web. Wilbur's new celebrity status wins him a trip to the County Fair where he doesn't win any awards but a special citation none the less and as a result is spared being slaughtered.
So, a happy ending think again, here comes the irony of the whole story. Where as Wilbur's life is spared, Charlotte finds that after producing an egg sack of her 514 children that her life is winding down. Charlotte soon dies and Wilbur must carry on without his beloved friend, with only three of her offspring to keep him company.
The message in Charlotte's Web is quite clear about life and death. Yet another message comes across as well, when one life ends another begins which is the cycle of life itself. For Charolotte's life was coming to an end but her children lived on. The story handles what could be a difficult subject in a way that children will understand.
As I said there have been two movies on Charlotte's Web, and I have seen them both. For me the animated version still stands out due to the great music in it. There is also great voice over work here, especially by actress Debbie Reynolds who provides the voice of Charlotte. Some years later there was a direct to video sequel to this movie called Charlotte's Web 2: Wilbur's Great Adventure, which was a cute film but lacked the emotional impact of the original.