The two young women at the next table at my neighborhood cafe were deep in animated conversation about a movie they couldn't wait to see. I eavesdropped. Their conversation quickly became a reminiscence about a lady spider, of listening to their mothers lull them to sleep with E.B. White's delightful tale of barnyard bonhomie, "Charlotte's Web." There's a lesson here for Hollywood, and there's evidence that Hollywood is listening. That's good news for parents everywhere.
Wholesome may be on its way back. These young women expressed what a lot of us feel, a longing for a more innocent time when a child could be a child without the bombardment of the superficial sophistication prevalent in the media message of graphic sex and unremitting violence.
It's not that "Charlotte's Web" isn't a sophisticated book. Charlotte, after all, was the alter ego of E.B. White, who concludes at the end of his novel: "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."
One of the pleasures of parenthood is reading goodnight stories to a child, and "Charlotte's Web" is a book that Mom and Dad can enjoy as much as their children do. This is the light bulb flashing on above the heads of moviemakers, who are discovering that catering to a grown-up's remembered child offers enormous rewards. Parents who work hard to shield their children from X-rated trash will be grateful, and will show gratitude where it counts, at the box office.
"More titles suitable for youngsters were released in 2006 than in many previous years," John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, told The Washington Post. Commercial tie-ins are one of the reasons. Family-friendly movies generate sales of dolls and DVDs.
Filmmakers are discovering that Walt Disney knew what he was doing in the 1930s with his cartoons. "Everybody in the world was once a child," Mr. Fithian says. Uncle Walt liked the money, and his formula was simple and direct: "We don't think of grownups and we don't think of children, but just of that fine, clean, unspoiled spot down deep in every one of us that maybe the world has made us forget and that maybe our picture can help recall."
Cary Granat -- that really is his name -- made gory movies with titles like "Scream" and "Scary Movie," and now he's the man behind the release of "Charlotte's Web," and before that "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." He now understands what Walt Disney was talking about. When his children were old enough to go to the movies, he didn't want them to see his earlier films.
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