The Pros of the Film
The animation is obviously considerably different from the 1973 Hanna-Barbera version. That was to be expected. It's pleasant to look at and I don't have any problems with the updates they made to some of the characters - especially Wilbur. I didn't mind that the animators gave Aranea, Nellie, and Joy (Charlotte's daughters) cute little hairdos to tell them apart. In fact, I love how they gave each of them distinct personalities.
Aranea,the blonde one with three ponytails, has a rather comical inability to create a proper web. Apparently, she has never caught a fly in her life. We'll excuse the obvious logical flaws with that one. The red-headed Nellie, who seems to be the "leader" of the three, is a crazy daredevil always trying to pull stunts because of the "rush" it gives her. Then there's Joy with the cute purple bob, who just sort of has an attitude and is the pessimist of the group. It all works, though.
After that, the plot is very simple. There's a black sheep born named Cardigan. The other sheep (the white ones) all pick on him. Wilbur takes exception to this, bursting into the sheep's pen and instantly befriending Cardigan. Much like Jeffrey the little gosling in the original film, Cardigan decides he wants to be a pig and starts acting like one. It's a cute schtick, I guess, but not exactly original.
When Things Get Corny...
That's where things go a little downhill. The first song, "It's Not Hard to Be a Pig" is incredibly stupid and makes Wilbur look incredibly dumb. It's not well-sung, either. That's no offense to the guy who voiced Wilbur. Otherwise he and all the other voice actors did a good job.
Here's the next big thing that got me, and it's a major one. One of my greatest issues with the film is that they made Wilbur a flat-out coward. Yes, he fainted a bunch in the original film. But bloodsucking spiders and, of course, thoughts of your impending demise, can make a lot of people feel woozy. But the writers of this film decided, straight off from the beginning, to turn Wilbur back into an absolute coward. I let it go at the beginning. But it started to bother me around this point that the writers made this little alteration to Wilbur's character just to make a plot out of it. After all the courage that he gained from the original story, this was a character reversal that I really didn't appreciate.
So Zuckerman decides to take Cardigan and Wilbur back to the fair. As it turns out, it's been only a year since the previous fair. Zuckerman wants to show off his black sheep and brings Wilbur along for the heck of it. It's so they can be paired together as "Zuckerman's Famous Animals." There's nothing wrong with this part, at least.
Nellie, being the adventurous one, tags along. Of course, Templeton the Rat joins her, who can't wait to glut himself again at the fair as he did in the original film/book. Actually, the bit with his four kids shown at the end of the original film being a great handful was pretty cute. That was a part that I liked. At this point, even with the film's early problems, it was starting to come together for me.
But then there's a silly subplot about Fern. She's the girl who saved Wilbur from her father who was going to kill him because he was a runt. Fern is raising a special sort of large tomato and taking it to the fair. She goes as far to sing to the tomato and names "her" Sal. Thankfully, there are no songs featuring the tomato.
At the fair, Cardigan is getting a lot of attention, which he doesn't like. Wilbur reminds him that it's only because he's special. But when the onlookers discover that there's no web over Wilbur this time, they shrug and walk away. One walks away even suggesting that the zucchini were more interesting.
Wilbur doesn't feel so special anymore. That's understandable. But then, there's this ridiculous bit where he envisions a bunch of forks and knives chasing after him. I could have lived with that. Unfortunately, there's a song with it. The song, honestly, kind of amused me, as stupid as it all was.
Soon after, Farmer Zuckerman decides that he wants to sell Cardigan to a local farmer for his wool. Wilbur is very upset by this and Fern arrives to let her uncle (Farmer Zuckerman) know that Wilbur doesn't want him to go. But Zuckerman says it's business and ignores her. He sells Cardigan anyway.
The "Meat" of the Film
Wilbur decides he has to go on an adventure to see if Cardigan is alright. The Goose (named Gwen in this film) gives him directions. Wilbur hires Templeton (who's been to the farm that Cardigan was sold to before) to be his guide. Templeton's fee is baby-sitting his four kids for a couple of weeks.
The rest of the film is basically that adventure, of Wilbur continuing to be a coward until they reach the farm where Cardigan is. By the time he gets there though, Wilbur is an absolute mess. He has leaves, brambles and sticks and things stuck to him to the point that he looks like a wild boar. A couple of farmers driving by in the night saw him. They put out word that there's a wild pig on the loose.
This is when we get to the "villain" of the film, who was actually introduced towards the beginning of the film. Farley Fox is his name. Honestly, he's probably the most interesting character in the film. Wilbur had saved a gosling from his demise earlier, and now he makes his way to the farm that Cardigan is at.
Farley sneaks into the hen-house and takes out a hen and some eggs. Cardigan and some of the other animals at the farm urge Wilbur to stop the fox. Being the coward he is, though, Farley is able to easily escape. The farmer's wife goes after Wilbur, believing him to be a troublesome wild boar.
Farley is now gloating over his victory. His "song" which is more like a rhyming monologue put to music is probably my favorite of the four in the film. He's quite the self-centered fox genius. At the end of his little musical bit, he catches sight of Cardigan, who he immediately snatches away.
Wilbur, always the coward, suddenly remembers what Charlotte told him once: friendship is a tremendous thing. Wilbur "mans" up and decides to go after the fox to save Cardigan. Templeton is happy to join him, explaining that he had many cousins that met their demise at the paws of a fox. Now, this was a personal vendetta for him. It's great that they give Templeton such a big part in the film. One of the cows at the farm, Bessie (who makes nothing but sour milk) tags along.
A Rather Weak Conclusion
This is where the film just falls apart for me. Obviously, if a fox had caught a little lamb like Cardigan, he would've torn him to shreds almost immediately. The very fact that Farley drags him back to his "foxhole," which is actually the basement of a dilapidated old farmhouse, is just absurd. The very fact that Wilbur, Bessie, Templeton, and Charlotte's three daughters are able to outsmart him is just really, really absurd.
On a good note, the three sisters have a cute little song. It was a mite TOO cute as they work to try and spin a web to prove Wilbur's innocence (trying to write Fox). It didn't work out too well, at first. However, by the time that Farley is captured, in a web of WILBUR'S making, the girls have managed to write the word FOX in a web right above the ensnared fox. This is enough to convince the silly humans that it was a fox that was the culprit the whole time. The film ends with Aranea and Joy staying behind with Cardigan to keep him company. Meanwhile, Wilbur has to return home to make good on his promise to baby-sit Templeton's kids. It's all really silly.
Overall, this film would have never done very well had it not been packaged with the DVD release of the original film. It was a direct-to-DVD film and it shows. While it makes for a cute spectacle for fans of the original story, it has all sorts of plot-holes that kill it for me. It's clear that there was some effort put into character development, and I did enjoy seeing Aranea, Joy, and Nellie come to life. They were the best part of the film for me.
But overall, the film was so corny and cliched that it just can't hold a candle to the original. For what it is, though, it's OK. But unless you're a huge fan of the original story, it's not really worth watching.