Opening on Friday, Dec. 15, the big-screen version of this beloved children’s classic features some of Hollywood's best actors, including Julia Roberts, Dakota Fanning, and Steve Buscemi. Beliefnet’s Sherry Huang met with some of the actors and creators of "Charlotte's Web" and asked them why the book has such a lasting appeal, what it felt like to portray an animal, and what humorous and meaningful pet experiences they’ve had.
Pet Experience: My first pet that I can actually remember was my horse, which I got a year ago. I also have a dog, which I just got five months ago. They've taught me a lot just about responsibility and the importance of taking care of [my pets].
On reading the book: I've read it so many times since I was very young, and I read it while I was doing the movie and afterwards, and it was great to see all those things come to life as we were filming it.
On being Fern: I think there’s such an important relationship between Fern and [her friend] Henry Fussy, because it symbolizes Fern growing up and becoming more interested in her appearance and wanting to do other things as well--not just wanting to go to the barn. [Fern and I are] probably similar in that way. I definitely haven't really thought about boys or anything like that, but I know that will happen eventually.
"Charlotte's Web" is such an iconic story that so many people know. So many people have an idea of what Fern's like, and I had to combine all of that along with other people's renditions of her--and portray that in the movie. My mom loved this book very much, and Fern was her favorite character. It was great to see those pages that she had read so many times come to life.
Core message of the book: I think the movie teaches the simple things that people sometimes forget in life, like not judging someone, really getting to know a person, being a good friend, and the importance of living everyday to the fullest.
Steve Buscemi (Templeton the rat)
Pet Experience: I had a terrier as a kid. The dog's name was Murphy. Then later on I had a mixed terrier that I named Chief when I was working as a firefighter, but [Chief] wasn't a dalmation. I guess with Chief-- being the first real pet I had to take care of by myself--I learned it was a huge responsibility.
On being Templeton: I like him. He's funny, and he's a non-sentimental character. He finds a way to help out, but he also takes care of himself at the same time. He's just brutally honest. He can probably find a kinder way to say things, but he doesn't care. He's a rat and he reacts to how people react to him. A lot of people just have a phobia about rats or just misconceptions, so his attitude is warranted.
I think Templeton does have a big heart underneath it all, and that is a part of what's appealing about the character. And he's not just only looking out for himself; he is able to appreciate certain things in life that are important.
Core message: I always resist boiling down any movie to what the message is, because I don't want to take that away from the audience going in. But the movie does have a lot cool themes about friendship, loyalty, survival, life and death, keeping someone's memory alive, and acceptance. And it's done with a lot of heart and with a lot of humor.
Pet Experience: Well, I am not a pet person because my first pet was a dog named Tasha. My sister named the dog Tasha, and I could not stand the name. We kept the dog for a while and one day the dog got off the chain, and he looked back at me right when he was running away. I was calling the dog, "Tasha! Tasha!" And I swear the dog looked back at me and was like, "Man, you won't be playing [with me] anymore." After that, I never saw Tasha again. I decided that I didn’t want animals anymore.
On being Golly: [Oprah Winfrey and I] actually recorded together. We played husband and wife, so [the director] wanted the back-and-forth bickering in that relationship. Once we got inside the studio, we got a feeling of [Oprah] being this wife that's domineering, and I'm a little brow-beaten, but I've got all this bravado whenever she's not around.
On reading the book: I was 36 when I first read it. I remember seeing the book as a kid, and I always thought it was a girl book, a little girl with a pig. I was able to read the book to my kid a while ago. And I cried.
Core message: You see the circle of life with Charlotte, the spirit of friendship and loyalty when [all the animals] get together to try to save Wilbur. You learn about self-worth, value, who you are, why you're a necessary part of the whole wheel of life. These are back-to-basic lessons in life, for which we can all use a refresher course from time to time.
André Benjamin (Elwyn the crow)
Pet Experience: I think one of the major points of this story is death. And my dog--my little puppy--died because I left some candy (still in its wrapper) out on the table and the puppy tried to eat it, choked on it, and died. So my dog taught me the lesson of death. I was probably five or six at the time.
On being Elwyn: He's kind of like a little thinker even though his brain's not that little. I worked with Thomas [Haden Church, who plays Brooks, the other crow] so we could face off each other. It's like when you do a Laurel and Hardy thing where you play your role off the other actor.
Core message: There are three: The first one is the relationship between Wilbur and Charlotte; they're these animals from two totally different sides. They're not supposed to be friends, but it's about loyalty. At the same time, I think a major message in the movie is this barnyard atmosphere. You have all these different animals--they look different, they talk different, they eat different things, and it's kind of represents the world. And [the animals] all get along. I think that's cool. Then of course there's the first introduction to death as a kid, because it can be pretty hard. But seeing it in the film kind of eases the blow.
Gary Winick (Director)
Pet Experience: I grew up in the city. My first pet--well, my only pet--was a French poodle named Tiger. And it was a pain because I never wanted to go downstairs and walk him. You know, I used to kill everything that moved in my apartment--the cockroaches I still do. But the beauty of "Charlotte's Web" is seeing the spirit and the humanity in every little thing.
On telling the story: I was so passionate about telling an intimate story--the relationship between Wilbur and Charlotte, and [the friendships between all] the animals in the barn. The responsibility not to mess it up was such an important thing. I wanted to do a classic, straightforward cinematic film. "Babe" was a template; I knew that if I could get my film half as good as "Babe," I’d be in great shape.
Core message: For me this is a beautiful story about the values of friendship.