Add to the din of wiseacre animal movies a small, soft voice of reason. A refreshing children’s entertainment bereft of cutesy pop-culture references and true to the letter and spirit of E.B. White’s 1952 classic, the new live action--animated Charlotte’s Web succeeds against all expectations. Pluckily, it holds its own in comparison to Babe, to the 1973 Hanna-Barbera film, maybe even to tucked-in preslumber sessions with the book itself. Even the creepy Dakota Fanning Factor remains in check, playing, as she does, an age-appropriate farm girl stirring to the beauties of life, responsibility and love.
Of course, the story isn’t really about Fern, as much as Wilbur (Kay), a spring pig haunted by the smokehouse, and his new arachnid friend, Charlotte (Roberts, in her most intelligent performance to date), who spins a plan to save him. If computer-generated snout talk is the way into this new generation’s heart, then so be it; all of the voice work is superb, with Steve Buscemi’s egocentric rat even eclipsing Paul Lynde’s ultrasnide Templeton. Only occasionally do the proceedings seem aggressively pastoral and gooey—shot in Australia, the film is set in a magically indeterminate era. But any tears you may shed will be wholly earned. (Opens Fri 15; Click here for venues.) — Joshua Rothkopf