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Don't call me Babe

Arthropod and snouted mammal meet computer animation. Coming to a classroom near you: how the classic Charlotte's Web translates from book to blockbuster. Stephen Manning reports

He must have been the first creature that made many children think twice about eating bacon. He is Wilbur the pig, the runt of the litter whose life is saved by his friendship with Charlotte, the barn spider. February sees the release of Charlotte's Web, a film based on E B White's classic children's story, first published in 1952.

As a piglet, Wilbur is saved from slaughter by the farmer's daughter, but when he grows up he is sent to a nearby farm to await his fate of becoming somebody's dinner. However, his new friend Charlotte, a spider who lives in the barn's rafters, tries to convince the farmer that Wilbur is special and his life should be spared by spinning phrases such as "some pig" into her web.

The film mixes live action with computer animation. The farmyard animals'

voices are provided by John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey and Robert Redford, with Julia Roberts as the eponymous spider and Dominic Scott Kay, the child star, as Wilbur.

To mark the film's opening, Film Education, a charity funded by the UK film industry and the British Film Institute, has produced a new interactive CD-Rom for children aged five to 11. It is being sent free of charge this month to all 24,000 primary schools on Film Education's mailing list.

"It is designed to help teach about the adaptation process, to analyse how E B White's words translate into moving images," says Julie Green, Film Education's director of education and a former teacher.

The resource covers literacy, technology, drama, PSHE and citizenship.

Pupils can compare extracts from the novel to sequences from the film, or interactively experience the unpleasantness of Templeton the rat's lair.

This was not described in the original novel, but is included to show how visual detail can give clues to character and enhance an understanding of the story.

There are various games: pupils must, for instance, define the words depicted in the spider's web. And just as there was something strangely prescient for the 1950s about messages on the web, the makers have attempted to bring things even more up to date with Charlotte Sudoku

Visit www.filmeducation.orgcharlottesweb for more details. Charlotte's Web opens in UK cinemas on February 9

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