SUBJECTS — Science-Biology;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Caring for Animals; Friendship; Grieving;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Respect; Caring.
AGE: 5-10; MPAA Rating: G;
Drama; 2006; 113 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
The 2006 movie version of Charlotte’s Web is an excellent treat or reward after students have read the book or had it read to them.
Wilbur, a runt pig, has the great fortune of making two wonderful friends. Fern, a little girl, stops her father from killing Wilbur just after he is born. She argues that it’s not fair to kill the little pig just because he can’t compete with his larger brothers and sisters. A spider named Charlotte creates a sensation by describing Wilbur with words spun into her web. Her goal is to make Wilbur so famous that his owners will not make him into a Christmas ham. Wilbur survives, Fern grows and gets interested in a boy, but Charlotte, having lived the allotted time for a spider, spins her egg sac, languishes, and dies. Wilbur takes care of the egg sac for his friend and tells her children all about their mother.
The movie is excellent, following the outline of the book and retaining its message and charm. The filmmakers have added a few characters (the crows) and a few incidents. The movie won the 2006 Critic’s Choice Award for Best Family Film of the Year.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: Winner of the 2006 Critics’ Choice Award for Best Family Film (live action) by the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA).
Featured Actors: Actors: Dakota Fanning as Fern; Kevin Anderson as Mr. Arable; Essie Davis as Mrs. Arable; Louis Corbett as Avery; Julian O’Donnell as Henry Fussy; Robyn Arthur as Teacher; Siobhan Fallon as Mrs. Zuckerman; Gary Basaraba as Homer Zuckerman; Nate Mooney as Lurvy; Voices: Julia Roberts as Charlotte the Spider; Dominic Scott Kay as Wilbur; Sam Shepard as Narrator; Steve Buscemi as Templeton the Rat; John Cleese as Samuel the Sheep; Oprah Winfrey as Gussy the Goose; Cedric the Entertainer as Golly the Goose; Kathy Bates as Bitsy the Cow; Reba McEntire as Betsy the Cow; Robert Redford as Ike the Horse; Thomas Haden Church as Brooks the Crow; André Benjamin as Elwyn the Crow.
Director: Gary Winick
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
The lessons of this story include the possibilities of affection between individuals of different species; acceptance of individuals who are different (that we must look behind appearance to see the true worth of an individual); the value of friendship; and acceptance of the natural rhythms of life. As Charlotte says, “After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die.” The story also allows children to begin to see human beings from the animal’s point of view.
“Charlotte’s Web” can also interest kids in learning about pigs and spiders.
For suggestions about using filmed adaptations of literary works in the ELA classroom, see Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories, and Plays.
MINOR. There are a few burp and fart jokes. There is a fleeting view of Fern and her brother Avery standing in the back of the pickup truck as it heads toward the fair (a problem that can be corrected during the movie, by explaining how dangerous that is). Fern and Avery go off on their own at the fair, though this is approved by their parents, and if they aren’t together, Fern is with her friend. Finally, Charlotte’s death is sad, but tasteful and touching.
Heart to heart communication
E.B. White, the man who wrote Charlotte’s Web, raised a spring pig each year and slaughtered it around Christmas time. One year, the pig that Mr. White was raising got sick, and he had to take care of it. He observed that the pig had a real personality and that it suffered when it was sick. The pig and Mr. White became good friends but the pig never recovered. Eventually, it died from the illness. Mr. White never again looked at pigs as just something to keep confined, to feed, and then to kill for food. As a result of his friendship with the pig who got sick, Mr. White wrote the book Charlotte’s Web.
A FEW FACTS ABOUT PIGS
Pigs are friendly and very smart. In fact, they are the smartest of all the farm animals. Pigs are more intelligent than dogs and cats. Some scientists believe that pigs are as smart as a three-year-old human child. Pigs can figure out how to open and shut gates or push on a lever to get food or a drink of water. They have been taught many skills such as tumbling, to race against one another, to dance, to hunt and to pull carts. Pigs have good memories and can even play simple video games by manipulating the joystick with their snouts.
Pigs are naturally clean animals. When they can get a shower of clean water, pigs prefer it to a roll in the mud. Pigs are not naturally dirty, and they do not defecate in their living areas unless they are confined and have nowhere else to go. When pigs live in fields and in their natural habitat, they use their free time to lie in the sun, play and explore. Their sense of smell is as strong as that of dogs.
You may have heard that pigs eat a lot and will overeat whenever they can. This is pretty much a myth. Many pigs only eat until they have had enough food. Then they stop eating. (Many people can’t control their appetites and will eat too much if a lot of food is placed in front of them.) To get pigs to eat more, farmers feed them a chemical that makes them eat much more than they would normally.
Pigs have social relationships with other pigs. They have families and friends. People have recognized up to 20 different sounds that pigs make which mean different things. Pigs suffer when they are crowded together in small pens, when they are crated up to be moved to the slaughterhouse, and when they are killed. 97% of the pigs raised in the United States are raised in factory farms.
For more interesting pig facts go to Pigs, Pork, Swine Facts from Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom.
A FEW FACTS ABOUT SPIDERS
Charlotte’s description of the life of a spider is pretty accurate, except that they don’t talk or spell. Most spiders live only one season and reproduce by spinning egg sacs. Spiders with webs catch their prey in the web, inject a venom that starts the digestion process and then drinks the digested juice within the animal’s body. (Spiders don’t really drink blood. The prey’s body is predigested by the poison the spider injects making the inside of the prey a kind of soup. The spiders drink the soup.) Young spiders disperse by sending out strands of silk, called balloons, and riding the air currents to a new home.
Spiders have four pairs of legs, eight in all. Their bodies have two major parts, a head region, and an abdomen. These are joined by a narrow waist. At the end of their abdomen, spiders have small fingerlike spinnerets which produce silk. Spiders have a pair of jaw-like structures as part of their head which ends in hollow fangs for injecting venom into their prey. For almost all spiders, these fangs are not strong enough to pierce human skin, however, their jaws can still bite people and spider bites can result in bad infections. Young spiders (spiderlings) look just like the adults, only they are smaller and they may have a different color.
Spiders have an important place in most ecosystems. If spiders didn’t exist, insects like mosquitoes and flies would soon get out of control. People would have to use many more chemicals to control insects.
USING IN THE CLASSROOM
Consider discussing the issues raised in the Discussion Questions with the class.
Obviously, given the benefits of reading Charlotte’s Web, the movie should be shown as a treat or reward after students have read the book. When showing this movie to a class, or after reading the book without showing the movie, consider copying and having students take home TWM’s Parents’ Handout for “Charlotte’s Web”. It encourages parents to read the book with their child and contains discussion prompts to stimulate conversations about the story and the issues it raises. Some of the discussion prompts repeat questions suggested in this Learning Guide. The handout also contains suggestions for vocabulary and other games relating to the story. If parents do not have the facility with English to read the handout, you can suggest to students that they have other relatives read it to their parents or read the book to or with the students.
You might also read to students (or have the students read in class or send home to parents) the short story “It’s Her Eyes”.
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:
Who was the most remarkable character in this movie?
The most remarkable animal was Charlotte. She could spin webs and spell. That is remarkable for a spider. However, Fern and Wilbur were pretty remarkable, too. Fern was able to extend her sense of justice beyond human beings to animals of other species. Wilbur was remarkable in his ability to attract and keep wonderful friends, like Fern and Charlotte.
2. Mr. E.B. White, the author of this story, learned that pigs were more than just ham and bacon when he took care of a sick pig. How did that happen?
As Mr. White spent a lot of time with the pig, he learned that the pig had a personality, like a dog or a cat, and almost like a person.
CARING FOR ANIMALS
1. Was Fern’s family right in giving Wilbur to Uncle Homer when the family knew that Uncle Homer intended to kill Wilbur for a Christmas ham?
Most students will respond in the negative, but the teacher should remind them that there is another position that may not be correct, but at least should be considered: that farms are set up to make a living for the farmer or provide food for the farmer’s family; the pig eats, and the farmer has to pay for the food; the pig takes tending, and the farmer has to get some benefit for the time spent with the pig.
2. When Fern insisted that it was unjust to kill the runt pig (whom she later named Wilbur) just because he was little, was she treating him like a person by insisting that his interests be taken into account? Was she right to do this?
Fern could be said to have been giving the little runt pig the same consideration that she would give to a person. For most farmers, pigs are just a product, like corn or strawberries, which they grow and then harvest, regardless of how unjust it might be to the pig. In the real world, people will disagree about whether Fern was right. Animal rights activists and vegetarians who don’t eat meat because they do not want to hurt animals would say she was right. Farmers might say she was wrong.
3. Templeton always had to be shown how it was in his interest to do something for someone else, like when Wilbur had to promise that Templeton would get first choice of the slops in order to get the rat to save Charlotte’s egg sac. Was Templeton really as selfish as he seemed?
There is no one right answer to this question. One theory is that Templeton really wanted to do the right thing, but he viewed himself as a selfish animal who needed some personal benefit before he would do anything for anyone else.
4. How should Wilbur have felt about Charlotte’s death?
One is always sad to lose a friend. Most species of spiders live only one season. Charlotte had lived a very full life and Wilbur had helped to make that life a happy one by being Charlotte’s friend and giving her a monumental challenge to overcome. The end of the season was Charlotte’s time to die. So Wilbur should have been sad, but thankful that his friend had lived a full and happy life to its natural end.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)
1. In this movie, Charlotte took a big risk. What was it?
She promised her friend, Wilbur, that she could control the actions of the human beings. But when she made this promise, Charlotte had no idea about how she was going to do this and she had no control over the human beings. It’s always dangerous to promise what you don’t know you can deliver.
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)
2. At the beginning of the story, the other animals in the barn didn’t respect Wilbur or Charlotte. What made that change?
When the animals saw the depth of the friendship between Wilbur and Charlotte and the wonderful things that Wilbur and Charlotte were doing for each other, the other animals started to notice that they were animals worthy of respect.
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
3. What is the role of caring in this story?
Fern cared for Wilbur, and Wilbur cared for Fern. Charlotte and Wilbur cared for each other. Wilbur’s life wouldn’t have been saved without caring.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
BRIDGES TO READING
The words stressed in the movie are: litter, runt, nocturnal, chat, converse, address (as in “Will the party who addressed me last night at bedtime kindly speak up”), salutations, cured (two meanings, one referring to getting well and the other referring to smoking a piece of meat), radiant, terrific, humble, languish, and magnum opus.
Other sources or information on pigs include: Are Pigs Smarter Than Dogs? by Lisa Duchene, Penn State University; Pig Video Arcades Critique Life in the Pen by Miguel Helft, Wired Magazine, 10/6/1997; and Pigs from GoVeg.com.
Last updated July 23, 2013.