“You can’t make a movie about the survival of Wilbur, and not care about the animals who played Wilbur.”
By The Dodo
These are the words of Bernie Williams, the executive producer of the 2006 movie “Charlotte’s Web.” Based on E.B. White’s book by the same name, “Charlotte’s Web” is the tale of a piglet named Wilbur who’s rescued from slaughter by a little girl named Fern. Fern’s parents allow her to keep Wilbur for a short period, but they eventually force her to send Wilbur to the Zuckerman farm, where he’s supposed to be fattened up and eaten. But Wilbur befriends a spider named Charlotte, who helps Wilbur save his own life.
No fewer than 46 piglets took turns starring in the role of Wilbur. The production team got the piglets from local factory farms near Greendale, Australia, where the movie was filmed. When it came time to rehome the pigs after the production, Williams turned to Animals Australia, a leading animal protection organization, asking them for help.
Animals Australia made sure all 46 piglets found loving homes around Australia. The piglets (all female) traveled to different locations, including Queensland, Tasmania and Flinders Island. Two lucky piglets — Lily and Daisy — ended up atEdgar’s Mission, a well-known animal refuge in Victoria, Australia.
“Both girls arrived at Edgar’s Mission on the same day,” Pam Ahern, founder of Edgar’s Mission, told The Dodo. “They were pretty chuffed about their new home, but I was way, way more excited.”
Ahern was especially excited for Lily’s arrival based on her reputation for being a star. “I was told Lily was the head pig trainer’s favorite pig, and I wondered just what incredible things she would’ve been taught for the movie,” said Ahern. “Nothing! Lily was one very determined pig who clearly the word ‘pig headed’ was modeled off. She did exactly what she wanted to do and only occasionally what I wanted, but I couldn’t have loved her any more.”
While Lily was pig-headed, Daisy was the opposite. “Daisy was one of the sweetest natured piggies you’ve ever met,” said Ahern. “She was never any trouble. All throughout her life she was such a dear girl, and yes, you guessed it, I couldn’t have loved her any more too.”
Then Daisy and Lily got a surprise. Two months after they arrived at Edgar’s Mission, another pig from “Charlotte’s Web” came along — this time, it was the sow who’d played Wilbur’s mother in the film. The reason the sow didn’t come earlier is because she’d gone back to the factory farm where she’d come from to nurse her latest litter of piglets. After the piglets had been weaned, the sow was due to be slaughtered since she’d reached the peak of her productive years.
“When the mother arrived at the sanctuary, she was just a shell of a creature,” said Ahern. “Her sad eyes and frightened nature coupled with the physical cuts and abrasions to her body told us life hadn’t been very kind to her. In fact, the first time she saw grass was the day she arrived at the sanctuary and the pig farmer pushed her out of his trailer. He even astonishingly remarked, ‘oh my, that’s the first time she’s seen grass and look at her go.'”
Ahern named the pig “Alice” after Alice Walker, who famously said, “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”
It took many, many months for Alice to let Ahern anywhere near her, let alone touch her. But eventually, Alice learned to love people. Alice also loved Edgar, the resident pig, whom the sanctuary was named after. But Edgar wasn’t keen on her. “Alice would head off each day to find Edgar and he’d hide in his stall hoping Alice would go away,” Ahern said with a laugh. “Edgar was terrified of other pigs!”
“Alice also loved branches, despite never having seen them before she came to Edgar’s Mission,” Ahern explained. “She’d seek them out daily and find the largest one she could, seizing it in her teeth and then marching off proudly with it to her straw bed. Then she’d fashion it into a nest just like her wild cousins would do. Such a hardwired behavior had lived with this poor girl all those years, and she was never ever able to satisfy that desire until now.”
While it’s uncertain whether Alice was the actual mother of Daisy and Lily, she formed a particular closeness with Daisy. They chose to sleep in the same house, snuggling up as close as they could.
All the pigs have passed away now due to old age. As Ahern explains, factory farmed pigs succumb to old age earlier than pigs who haven’t been born into the commercial pig industry.
“We loved giving the ‘Charlotte’s Web’ pigs the life they deserved — a life free of pain and suffering,” says Ahern. “But it was Alice who had the biggest effect on me. Alice finally found freedom from enslavement under my care, and that’s something I’ll cherish forever. I’m truly honored and proud to have known such a noble creature.”
Source: The Dodo