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'Charlotte's Web': The Book vs. Movie

by Marielle Sabbag 4 years ago in literature
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The movie contrasts with the book in various ways, but does it tone down the dark themes of death from its book counterpart?

Charlotte’s Web by E.B White is a popular children’s book about a spring pig named Wilbur who befriends Charlotte, a spider who occupies the barn he lives in. Wilbur learns that one day he may become dinner to the family who owns him. Charlotte helps Wilbur in any way she can to avoid that fate. The spider produces multiple webs that inscribe various positive adjectives to describe Wilbur. Charlotte’s Web has been turned into two movie adaptations over time, most famously its 2006 live action version. The movie contrasts with the book in various ways, but does it tone down the dark themes of death from its book counterpart? Yes, it does tone down the theme, but not to the detriment of the story. We still get the heartwarming feeling of friendship and the appreciation for the power of words that are the main themes of the book.

An element that always stays the same from book to film are the words inscribed in Charlotte’s web. The words that represent Wilbur could never be changed as they reflect the tone of the story. The words "Some Pig," "Radiant," "Terrific," and "Humble" could never be replaced with anything more powerful. It would take away an important aspect of the book if the words were changed. These adjectives may not be well known to children reading in the books. These powerful words are meant to categorize Wilbur who is still too young to be familiar with himself.

The important theme of friendship dominates each adaptation. Friendship is an important theme which sets the tone of the tale. Charlotte and Wilbur have a powerful friendship—not only friendship, but love also plays a valuable role in the story. So many people believe that love is only between two people in a relationship. Love has a much bigger interpretation than this. We love our family. And we love our friends. Love is powerful especially within a friendship. Charlotte makes these words in her web in order to help Wilber survive and to live to see the first snowfall as spring pigs are usually butchered before the winter. As mentioned in the paragraph above regarding the powerful words which were never written out or changed, language is also an important theme.

There are more, multiple differences between the book and the film than one expects. For example, Fern’s character has a different personality and overall voice within the story. Fern rescued Wilbur from being killed and raised him as a pet. And then she had to give him up to her uncle’s farm and a life in the barn. She comes to her uncle’s farm each day to visit her pig. Once the fair comes around, that’s where her personality changes. She’s growing up. In the book, Fern was never there to see the pig she saved from death earn a medal. She forgets about Wilbur as soon as they’re at the fair. In the movie Fern has more of a part in saving Wilber and wanting him to live. However, she does run off in the fair with Henry, a boy whom she likes, but still spends time with Wilber and sees him earn his medal. Originally, E.B White didn’t incorporate Fern into the story until the final draft. He was stuck with how to begin his story. Fern has more of an impact in saving Wilbur in the movie than in the book. While the book focuses Wilbur and Charlotte’s friendship, the movie makes Fern’s character more essential to the plot. Perhaps, they wanted to delve more into her character because she has an important role which cannot be forgotten through the entirety of the story. The film wanted to integrate her character more as she was the one to have saved Wilbur to begin with. To them, it made sense because being there in the end showed her undying love and devotion for Wilbur. White’s intent was the show something different. She was only there to start the whole story.

Another element that was adapted more in the film was the characterization and friendship between the other animals in the barn. The story is not just about Wilbur and Charlotte’s friendship. The other animals are hardly mentioned in the story, besides occasional conversations with the geese and sheep. In the live action film version, there is more characterization between the other animals who are at first skeptical to befriend and help a pig, let alone talk to each other. In the film, friendship is an important theme, not just between Wilbur and Charlotte. The animals grow, interacting more.

Along with helping to develop the theme of friendship, the other animals are also present for comedic effect. This makes the movie less dark than the book. There was a discussion in class debating if scenes with the animals was just filler to help keep the movie going. I disagree. The movie can’t just be about Wilbur and Charlotte. There are other characters present who have a unique story to unfold whether it relates to the plot. The geese are nesting eggs, crows are trying to steal corn, and the cows like to have different comedic conversations with each other. It brings life to the movie and it brings more of heartwarming tone into the film as they all pay their respects to Charlotte in the end.

The movie version of Charlotte’s Web does a nice job adapting the story into a movie format. Although it did tone down the dark aspects from the book, it puts in a much different tone from the book. Books and movies have to portray different elements which make discussions on how it was made better or worse. The movie especially did a good job on the portrayal of Fern. She was there to support Wilbur and plays more of a heroic role in saving Wilbur whereas she runs off as soon as the fair comes around. The animals were also better used in the storyline as they were left out in the latter half of the book. Charlotte’s Web is about the importance of friendship between all humans and living creatures, not only between Wilbur and Charlotte. No matter what, Charlotte’s Web will always be a good children’s book and movie adaptation.


About the author

Marielle Sabbag

Writing has been my passion since I was 11 years old. I love creating stories from fiction, poetry, fanfiction. I enjoy writing movie reviews. I would love to become a creative writing teacher and leave the world inspiring minds.

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