This live-action adaptation of E.B. White’s hallowed classic runs out of gas once the cows start farting. From there, director Gary Winick mines the current family-movie formula — puns, burps, adult humor — for an overload of smart-alecky barnyard banter. The greatest wonder in this film about miracles? That the heart of the novel survives. Equally uncertain are the prospects of piglet Wilbur (voiced by Dominic Scott Kay), who’ll put you in mind of the superior Babe. He’s rescued from the ax by plucky Fern (Dakota Fanning), but it’s his new BFF Charlotte (a fine Julia Roberts) who must thwart his future as a sizzling side meat. The realistic arachnid isn’t Happy-Meal-toy-cute; likewise, nemesis Templeton the rat (Steve Buscemi) embodies White’s vision of rodent debauchery. Yet that’s about all that escapes the maddening notion that subtlety isn’t for kids. As a fatuous narrator pounds home the uplifting themes, the effect is as nuanced as a cow flop.
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