As a kid I was a huge fan of the animated film version of E.B. White’s Charlotte's Web. It made me cry every time I watched it, and I truly wanted a pig of my own. Heck, that's still the case, so I have been looking forward to the new movie version quite a lot, especially after it was announced that none other than Danny Elfman would compose the score. Charlotte's Web seems like a perfect gig for Elfman, it's a lovely, but sad, story which should allow Elfman to revisit the kind of music he does best. And he sure did deliver! The score for Charlotte's Web is classic Elfman, similar in sound to timeless scores like Edward Scissorhands, hidden treasures like Sommersby and more recent solid efforts, like his music for Tim Burton's Big Fish and Corpse Bride. It's playful and sentimental, without ever getting too sappy or sugary.
Elfman's makes great use of his famous celesta, woodwinds and female choir and the result is a score that entertains and delights from start to finish. Actually, there's not one dull moment in this score, which starts off with an upbeat "Main Title" cue, where Elfman's typical staccato writings for mostly strings, woodwinds and percussion is allowed to stretch its legs. Short, but a great start to the score. After that, the score gets a little more toned down and relaxed, with some Americana and country influences, which will remind the listener of the composer's score for Sommersby. There are lots of acoustic guitars, and plenty of fifths in the string section, which creates a very rustic sound.
Apart from the "Main Title", highlights include the beautiful "The Plan Begins", where piano and strings opens the cue, soon joined by choir for a full statement of the lovely main theme. "Humble" features some excellent choral outbursts and is also very memorable, but the number one spot without a doubt goes to the final score cue, "Wilbur's Homecoming", which is a nine minute long tour the force, revolving around the main themes (basically, a sweet melody for Wilbur, and a more sneaky one for Templeton, the rat). It's Elfman at his best and without a doubt one of the most beautiful finale cues he has ever written, up there with Edward Scissorhands. Absolutely heartbreaking and healing at the same time, performed by full orchestra and choir.
The only real problem with the score is that it tends to go all mickey mouse-y on you at times, closely following and commenting the action on screen. I've never been a fan of this type of Carl Stalling-like scoring, as it never allows themes and ideas to get fully developed. One idea is discarded and replaced with a totally different animal after just a couple of bars. But that's just a minor quibble. Charlotte's Web is a delightful score. In fact, it's "radiant" and "terrific".