Who's in It:
Dakota Fanning and the voices of Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, Oprah Winfrey, John Cleese, Cedric the Entertainer, Kathy Bates, Reba McEntire, Robert Redford, Thomas Haden Church, André Benjamin
The Basics: Finally, a decent adaptation of the classic E.B. White book about the spider that saves a little pig's life with carefully chosen words. And, yeah, I'm saying that the 1973 Hanna-Barbera animated version was crap. I've thought that since I was eight years old and have waited all this time to get to say it in print. This one gets it right; it's as gentle, literate and not-condescending-to-kids-at-all as the book. Parents, it's your duty to read this book to your little kids. Also take them to see this movie. In whatever order you choose.
What's the Deal? I am not a crying person at movies. Some people cry at movies, some cry over moments that deserve tears in their real life. I am usually the latter. But I think I just figured out that a well-made movie about kids and animals will melt me into a puddle. The evidence: I cried at last year's Dreamer, this year's amazing British-made Lassie and now this one. Like a big dumb baby. About seven times before the end credits rolled.
Which Animals Deserve Their Celebrity Voices: Buscemi's Templeton the rat and Cleese as the lead sheep are the best comic relief. Everyone else is fine, too. Even Oprah doesn't overdo it like you think she might.
Fans of the Book, Be Relieved: No annoying additions to worry about; they've stuck to the book for the most part, including key passages of White's text via Sam Shepard's narration. And if you're a really big fan of the book, you'll notice that the opening and closing credits are a very faithful approximation of Garth Williams' original illustrations. Only the most easily upset literalists will have any beef with this.
Production Story I Heard While Watching the Obligatory Oprah Episode About the Making of the Film: Apparently, the actual geese used in the movie were so mean and prone to biting the other animals and human members of the cast that they had to be filmed separately and digitally inserted into shots. Oprah seemed to think this was very funny.