Charlotte, Wilbur and the gang, from a video release.


Original Medium: Prose fiction
Made into animation by: Hanna-Barbera
First Appeared: 1952
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Charlotte's Web wasn't Hanna-Barbera's first feature-length animated cartoon. That would be Hey There, It's Yogi Bear (1964), where they used the fact that Yogi was a pre-sold property (in fact, it was the first movie ever made from a TV series) to protect themselves against the fact that non-Disney animated features had hitherto lost money. But aside from that theatrically-released one, their few prior long cartoons, such as Oliver & the Artful Dodger, having been seen first on TV, were called "television specials" …

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… rather than features, because the world hadn't yet accepted the fact that it's okay for movies to appear on TV without having been in theatres first. Charlotte's Web was their first that started with no television connection at all. It wasn't based on a TV character, was made for theatrical release, and was well established on its own before it was allowed to appear in that medium.

Like Disney's Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, Charlotte's Web was based on a modern story, with a clearly identifiable sole author. E.B. White was the 53-year-old author of Stuart Little when his most well-received novel, Charlotte's Web, was published in 1952. The story of a pig named Wilbur befriended by a spider named Charlotte, who saves him from being converted into ham at the cost of endangering her own life's work, won the hearts of both kids and the grown-ups who read to them. It was a good choice for the studio's first real attempt at breaking into the theatrically-released feature market without riding the back of one of its own TV characters.

The practice of casting stars rather than regular voice people in animated features was starting to become established. Disney had already cast Phil Harris (who later narrated Rock-A-Doodle-Doo) in The Jungle Book and UPA had cast Robert Goulet (Mikey's singing voice in Recess) in Gay Purr-ee. Hanna-Barbera cast movie star Debbie Reynolds, who had never done cartoon voice work (she's since been Lulu Pickles in Rugrats and Nana in Kim Possible) as Charlotte. For Wilbur, they chose an actor with a less stellar career, Henry Gibson, but one whose many prior credits still didn't include any cartoon voices. He's since done many animated roles, including Jenkins in King of the Hill, Patty's dad in Hey, Arnold! and a couple of lockers in Galaxy High School. Another major character was Templeton the Rat, whose voice, Paul Lynde, had previously been heard as Claude in Where's Huddles? and Mildew Wolf in Cattanooga Cats, but was better known for his face work.

Other voices include Agnes Moorehead and Rex Allen, neither of whom had any other voice credits at all, except for Allen having narrated The Saga of Windwagon Smith. Regular voice people who worked on Charlotte's Web include Don Messick (Kabooby the Camel) and Bob Holt (Hoot Kloot).

Charlotte's Web was released on March 1, 1973, in conjunction with Paramount Pictures, which, until just a few years earlier, had done the Famous Studios cartoons. It was the first non-Disney animated feature to be acclaimed both critically and by the public.

In 2003, Paramount released a sequel, Wilbur's Great Adventure, with David Berón (a snowman in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy) as Wilbur, Charles Adler (Buster Bunny) as Templeton and Julia Duffy (who has played bit parts in Pinky & the Brain and The Blues Brothers Animated Series) as the shade of Charlotte. Charlotte's daughters, Nellie, Joy and Aranea were Amanda Bynes (Taffy in Rugrats), Anndi McAfee (Cera in The Land Before Time) and Maria Bamford (Mrs. Claus in A Very CatDog Christmas), respectively.

In 2006, like 101 Dalmatians before it, it was re-made in live action. In '07 it was done as a series of video games for very young players. And as home video, it continues to sell briskly.


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Text ©2009-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Hanna-Barbera.