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Feature Film

Deitch’s Unproduced “Charlottes Web”

If you ever hated (or loved) the Hanna Barbera feature length Charlotte’s Web (1973), you owe it to yourself read the latest two entries in Gene Deitch’s Roll The Credits blog. It’s the full heart-breaking account – throughly documented with personal letters between Deitch and author E.B. White – of how Hollywood producers went from John Hubley to Gene Deitch to ultimately using Hanna Barbera to bring this literary classic to life.

Read the full story here, then drool over the complete never-before seen 792-panel storyboard Deitch had drawn by the masterful Czech artist Mirko Hanák, who passed away shortly after creating it. Deitch says E.B. White was forbidden (by producers) to see his storyboard (though White died shortly after seeing the Hanna-Barberra version. Coincidence?). A must-read!

  • Roland Denby

    Why so snarky? The Hanna-barbera version is a sweet, well made movie.

  • Roland Denby

    The Tom & Jerry shorts that Deitch produced are the absolute worst shorts produced for the cat/mouse duo. Based on that output (which is the only work of his I am at all familiar with), it’s hard to accept the notion that Deitch would have produced a superior “Charlotte’s Web” film than the film HB created.

    • Oh you are missing out. Deitch actually made great films (see “Munro”, his Terrytoons stuff, “Nudnik” series).

      Too bad the Tom & Jerry series is the only Deitch work that people are familiar with.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        Don’t forget the Weston Woods material too!

      • Bobby Bickert

        I watched Deitch’s Popeye cartoons years before I saw one of his Tom & Jerry cartoons.

  • Beautiful work. It’s not surprising that John Hubley may have had a hand in this, it reminds me of his unproduced animated Finian’s Rainbow and the unfinished (by Hubley) Watership Down.

  • Hanak’s work is gorgeous, and reminds me of what John Hubley might have aimed for had he gotten the chance to make it.
    It’s interesting that Gene notes in his typescript that Fern takes no part in the denouement. E. B. White at first wrote the boom without Fern, but he felt it was lacking something and he rewrote
    In the Letters of E.B. White, there a several letters about Gene’s involvement.

  • Roland Denby

    After reading the letters that E.B. White wrote, I do understand his opinion on the film a bit better. But, I think he was way too close to his source material to be able to bend a bit and understand that music would give the story a richer feel. Music in animated film was a given back in 1973. Disney’s films had music to enhance the story and without it, most of those films would have felt flat too. I agree with E.B. White’s opinion on the “I Can Talk” song, though. Perhaps a better choice would have worked elsewhere.

    From what I gather, the issues with Deitch seemed to stem from his location, as well as politics with the other producer, and nothing to do with anything at Hanna-Barbera. For me, a life-long Hanna-Barbera fan, it’s hard to fathom a better film as a whole. (Sure, Disney-esque animation would have helped, but what HB did, in the short amount of time they had to produce the film, per Sagittarius’s contract, was far from shoddy.)

    I have the model sheets from the HB film. They used the book’s art as the basis for their character designs. So, it’s confusing as to why they were unhappy with them, when they didn’t deviate too far from Garth Williams’ art.

    It’s sad that E.B. White was unhappy. So was P.L. Travers when Disney produced “Mary Poppins,” and Charlotte is much truer to the original than Poppins.

  • Roland Denby

    Forgive one last post, but I can’t ignore Jerry’s snarky comments regarding the “coincidence” of HB’s film release and E.B. White’s death. E.B. White died in 1985. The HB film was released in 1973. Honestly, it confounds me why, if Jerry Beck has such distain for all-things HB, does he constantly write books about the studio??

    • I love Hanna Barbera, but I’m not an “HB Zombie” – I don’t love everything they did (especially after 1970 – you’ll note my book stopped there). Hanna-Barbera’s CHARLOTTES WEB is not a great film, (though it has a great voice cast and nice Sherman Bros. score). That’s simply my opinion and I’m entitled to it.

  • Shannon Tindle

    I’ve been a big fan of Hanak’s work ever since I stumbled across it in a Prague bookstore. I would love to have seen what these two could have accomplished together on Charlotte’s Web.

  • V.M.L.

    I actually liked the HB CHARLOTTE’S WEB more than that crummy live-action movie that came out a few years ago.

  • There were a number of missed moments and under realized situations in CHARLOTTE’S WEB. The potential existed to more closely match Garth William’s illustration style, which was possible, but was not really attempted. There were some nice things about it, though, perhaps the most memorable sequence being the “Charlotte’s Web song with the impressionistic images.

    As a whole, CHARLOTTE’S WEB was a better film than H-B’s next feature, HEIDI’S SONG. THAT would make for an interesting discussion.

    • Chris Matie

      Plus the fact that not only has it become a bona fide classic (along with “Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear” and “The man Called Flintstone”), but, to the naysayers, they also fully demonstrate H-B’s versatility beyond SatMorn TV, cartoon specials, commercials, and the like.

      Not that I’m trying to ruin this for anybody, so please forgive me in advance, but IMdB even mentions that EB White never cared for the movie because, in his words, “Everyone is always singing a jolly song”. Well, that’s mainly because the music was penned by the Sherman brothers, Richard and Robert, who also did the score for “Mary Poppins”. All I can say is, “Charlotte’s Web” had WAY more conviction than Mary Poppins, with how already shows a broad range of human emotions (and for animals as well), the special bond between humans and animals, and the value of life, both human and animal, hands down. Anyways, back to my origianl comment, not only is it a masterpiece, but fully shows H-B’s versatility, too.

  • Roland Denby

    Based on the animators; model pack, I disagree that it wasn’t attempted. I do agree, however, that “Heidi’s Song” was a missed opportunity.

    And to Jerry: Just because a person can find merits to HB produced material post 1970 doesn’t make them a ZOMBIE. As I mentioned in that post, I’m not only a fan of their earlier material, but a long-time employee (over 25 years) as well. Not everything was successful but it doesn’t collectively need to be dismisses either.

  • As a big Gene Deitch fan, I would’ve loved to see how he would’ve made CHARLOTTE’S WEB. While I love his Tom & Jerry and Popeye work, he’s done great things that people will truly admire, like the cartoons Charles Brubaker mentioned.

    While I’m not a big fan of HB’s version, I will say it’s one of their finest works after the 50s.