Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Humble, Radiant, Terrific Movie

Miracles do happen! E.B. White's timeless children's story comes to life in this colorful animated musical. You'll laugh and sing along as Charlotte the Spider teaches Wilbur the Pig, Templeton the Rat and the other barnyard animals lessons on friendship trust and love.

Title: Charlotte’s Web
Release: March 1, 1973
Genre: Animated
MPAA Rating: G
Based On: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Writer: Earl Hamner Jr.
Director: Charles A. Nichols & Iwao Takamoto
Music By: The Sherman Brothers
Produced By: Joseph Barbera and William Hanna
Distributed By: Paramount Pictures
Run Time: 94 minutes

One of the most faithful adaptations of all E.B White’s works regardless that it became a musical, was the 1973 animated Hanna-Barbera production Charlotte’s Web. The writer, Earl Hamner Jr. keeps much of the original author’s feel of the book as well as his prose too. Though it wasn’t a major success in theaters, it did do fairly well and even won an Annie award but the home video sales is where it received the most response. Whenever Charlotte’s Web is mentioned most people immediately think of this film, which, even with its horrible “Saturday morning cartoon” animation, it is still, is considered a classic.

For as long as I can remember I have loved animated films- Disney more than others mostly- but this particular one has always been one of my favorites for as long as I can remember. Maybe when I was younger, it was the rhythm of the songs that captivated me but I do know that it was one of the first films I ever saw that made me cry and it still does today. It was years before I discovered that this film was actually an adaptation of a book and it didn’t take long before it became a favorite read as well. Screenwriter Earl Hamner summed up this wonderful material in an interview a few years ago when he said, “This is a story about love and death and sacrifice and regeneration and adult themes told through children's literature. But I don't think E.B. White was even thinking about children when he wrote it; he was thinking about significant themes and to trivialize the regenerative power of life would be terrible.”

It’s amazing when you discover something new about a film, a book, or an author that you have read/seen etc. more times than you can remember and that’s how I felt when I learned the reason behind why I enjoy the songs from Charlotte’s Web so much. They were composed by the duo Richard and Robert Sherman who are better known as The Sherman Brothers that wrote so many songs for Walt Disney’s pictures (including Mary Poppins) over the years. Another thing I recently learned which really surprised me is that Mr. White’s wife was involved with the creators of the film and she had wanted Mozart instead. As beautiful as classical music is and how it can add to a film, I seriously doubt that it would have been appropriate for the material. The Sherman Brothers compliment the story nicely and my favorite songs from the film have always been “Mother Earth and Father Time” and “Charlotte’s Lullaby” which is based on the actual lullaby that Charlotte sings to Wilbur in the book.

The music isn’t the only thing that makes this picture so special; it also has a lot of talent attached voice-wise. Not like the smorgasbord that is the recent live action adaptation but there are several well known voices nonetheless like Debbie Reynolds (leading role in Singin’ in the Rain), Paul Lynde (Uncle Arthur on Bewitched), the multi-award-winning actress Agnes Moorehead (also from Bewitched), Rex Allen as the narrator (one of the last American cinema‘s “singing cowboys”) and many, many more. They all add to the picture and are the perfect people for the parts as well. This story captured my heart long ago and the songs have stayed with me too, I believe Hamner said it best, "It is a marvelous story of miracles, of birth and death, of threat and hope and courage and friendship and regeneration. And on top of all its many other qualities it is funny." Charlotte’s Web is a wonderful film that will make you want to cry, laugh, and sing.

Related Post: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Links: Imdb.com, Wikipedia, Wikiquote
Interview: Earl Hamner with Box Office Mojo

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Refreshingly Creepy Story

The day after they moved in, Coraline went exploring . . .

In Coraline's family's new flat are twenty-one windows and fourteen doors. Thirteen of the doors open and close.

The fourteenth is locked, and on the other side is only a brick wall, until the day Coraline unlocks the door to find a passage to another flat in another house just like her own.

Only it's different…

At first, things seem marvelous in the other flat. The food is better. The toy box is filled with wind-up angels that flutter around the bedroom, books whose pictures writhe and crawl and shimmer, little dinosaur skulls that chatter their teeth. But there's another mother, and another father, and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.

Other children are trapped there as well, lost souls behind the mirrors. Coraline is their only hope of rescue. She will have to fight with all her wits and all the tools she can find if she is to save the lost children, her ordinary life, and herself.

Critically acclaimed and award-winning author Neil Gaiman will delight readers with his first novel for all ages.

Title: Coraline
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Dave Mckean
Start & Finished: 3/13/09- 3/14/09
Published: 2002
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 162 (hardcover)
Genre: Juvenile Fiction- Fantasy
Official Book Site

“You know I love you,” said the other mother flatly. “You have a very funny way of showing it,” said the heroine from Neil Gaiman’s story Coraline. This Bram Stoker Award (for Best Work for Young Readers) and the Hugo and Nebula Award for Best Novella winning novel took the author nearly ten years to write but although written as a young adult novel, this is a story that can appeal to everyone. It has been adapted into a graphic novel, a stop-motion animated film, and in May 2009 it became a musical as well.

Coraline was a good story, not a wonderful story- nor even quite as good as Gaiman’s newest children’s story The Graveyard Book but I enjoyed it. Like his Newbery-winning book, this one has dark undertones too but even though there is a murder at the beginning of the other book, this still manages to be a little bit scarier. As Coraline herself says, “after all, it is always easier to be afraid of something you cannot see.” The other mother and all of the inhabitants that were created in the world behind the door, hardly ever show you their true face and when they do… well, let’s just say you really wish they hadn’t!

I am looking forward to seeing the stop-motion animated film adaptation soon now and I have really high hopes for it. There are quite a few “scenes” I’d love to see how they translate to the screen. In an interview, Gaiman admits that after seeing The Nightmare Before Christmas, he had stop-motion in mind as the form Coraline should be portrayed because if they used live-action “it would be like The Shining for kids. Whereas the fact that these things are not quite real--they're dolls--allows everything to mute down.” At times while reading the story, I’ll admit that I imagined it as a mix between real world and sort of stop-motion even though I haven’t seen the movie yet.

In ways I can see why it has been compared to one of my favorite stories of all time Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll and also C.S. Lewis’ world of Narnia but where those books are charming, this one should not be mistook as anything except what it is: a work by the brilliant Neil Gaiman. It has more a dark fairy tale flavor to it, like something you would find in maybe an old Goosebumps book or something by Tim Burton (especially the really creepy rats). Lemony Snicket said it best I believe when he said that Coraline is “a fascinating and disturbing story” and while it didn’t “frighten me nearly to death,” I still am doubtful that I would want to explore any locked doors that go to “Nowhere” any time soon! Coraline was partly a scary story, partly an adventure, “and partly just a magnificent romp.”

Links: Author Wikipedia, Illustrator Wikipedia, Book Wikipedia,
Interview: A Note from Neil Gaiman, Borders Exclusive (videos, some about movie), With Mania

Friday, July 3, 2009

Some Pig

This is the story of a little girl named Fern who loved a little pig named Wilbur- and of Wilbur’s dear friend Charlotte A. Cavatica, a beautiful large grey spider who lived with Wilbur in the barn. With the help of Templeton, the rat who never did anything for anybody unless there was something in it for him, and by a wonderfully clever plan of her own, Charlotte save the life of Wilbur, who by this time had grown up to be quite a pig.

How all this comes about is Mr. White’s story. It is a story of the magic of childhood on the farm. The thousands of children who loved Stuart Little, the heroic little city mouse, will be entranced with Charlotte the spider, Wilbur the pig, and Fern, the little girl who understood their language.

The forty-seven black and white drawings by Garth Williams have all the wonderful detail and warm-hearted appeal that children love in his drawings for Stuart Little.

Title: Charlotte’s Web
Author: E.B. White
Illustrator: Garth Williams
Start & Finished: 3/11/09
Published: 1952
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 184 (Hardcover)
Genre: Juvenile Fiction-Animal

Imagine, crying over a spider’s death! A creature generally disliked by mankind and yet one children’s book author made millions of children the whole world over cry for her. That author would be E.B. White and that spider would be his famous Charlotte A. Cavatica from his book Charlotte’s Web. His story of a spider who befriends and saves the life of a pig named Wilbur won many awards over the years including the Massachusetts Children's Book Award in 1984, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal in 1970, and it became a Newbery Honor Book the following year it was published.

Charlotte’s Web has also been adapted to the screen once in 1973 as an animated film by Hanna-Barbera Productions and recently in 2006 as a live-action film starring Dakota Fanning and several other Hollywood stars. The animated version with songs written by the Sherman Brothers, was where I first heard this heartwarming story but it was years later before I realized it was based on a book. This was probably my third time re-reading this particular book by White (I’ve only read Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan once a piece) and if possible, I believe I love it more with each reading. Written for children it may be, but it is still adored by adults as well.

The first pig the author wrote about was in a short story called Death of a Pig that appeared in the Atlantic Monthly but having failed to save that pig, “since literature is not life, White set out in "Charlotte's Web" to save his pig in retrospect.” A beautifully sad story with simple, yet very appealing illustrations, this is one of my absolute favorite children’s books. Why is a spider such a beloved character? Especially since "The spider in the book is not prettified in any way?" She’s talented, smart, loyal, “a true friend and a good writer” too. "I came out ahead," White wrote, "because of not trying to patronize an arachnid."

When asked if his stories are real, White replied, “No, they are imaginary tales, containing fantastic characters and events. In real life, a family doesn't have a child who looks like a mouse; in real life, a spider doesn't spin words in her web. In real life, a swan doesn't blow a trumpet. But real life is only one kind of life -- there is also the life of the imagination. And although my stories are imaginary, I like to think that there is some truth in them, too -- truth about the way people and animals feel and think and act.”

Links: Book Wikipedia, Author Wikipedia, Illustrator Wikipedia, Fact Monster Trivia
Interview: Author Reads Excerpt, The Designs of EB White

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