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CHRONICLE OF A HIT FORETOLD

 

picture - Spiderwick ChroniclesMovie Review

by Chad Menville

published February 14, 2008

 

The Spiderwick Chronicles

Rated PG

now playing nationwide

 

Countless movie adaptations of books get over-hyped for their release. Children’s films are no different. Whether it is a case of miscasting, loose threads in the storyline, or not-so-special special effects, at their worst, they are all of the above. For this and other reasons, I came to the screening this week with minor reservations. It was my hope that, at the very least, this would not be another Jumanji-like outing – an exciting book that bore a movie of such schlock that it made Time Bandits seem like Citizen Cain. Thankfully, The Spiderwick Chronicles doesn’t merely satisfy – it enchants. From the popular series of books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, this is a movie which transcends the books that spawned it.

 

This fantasy adventure begins as the Grace family (Jared, his twin brother Simon, sister Mallory and their mom) leave New York and move into a secluded old house owned by their great-great-uncle, Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn). Jared discovers Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You, and, despite grave warnings, reads it. Soon it is undeniable that the Grace family are not the only inhabitants of the Spiderwick estate. Someone or something lives in its walls. First to discover this is Jared when he encounters a rodent-like “brownie” named Thimbletack (voiced by Martin Short), who further warns Jared of the harm that will consume him and his family if the book falls into the hands of Mulgarath, a powerful and evil ogre.

 

“Don’t trust what you think you see” is the message for the characters’ survival – not an easy task, considering that, for much of the story, their mother, Helen (Mary-Louise Parker), disbelieves anything is amiss. While Helen is at work, the kids are able to see the Unseen World and all that inhabit it: flower sprites and sylph, but also goblins. Jared and Simon (both skillfully played by Freddie Highmore), along with sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger), do their best to hold down the fort and fend off a rapidly advancing army of goblins.

 

Through the myriad adventures the kids go through in the 24 hour period the film encompasses, they are assisted by a giant griffin, a hog (voiced by Seth Rogen) appropriately named Hogsqueal, and Joan Plowright as their great aunt who has spent the better part of her years within the walls of a sanatorium. The shapeshifter Mulgarath (Nick Nolte, appearing every bit as menacing as his 2002 mug shot) descends upon the Grace family for a final showdown when the invisible wall protecting the house from the various evil creatures has been lifted. Also on board are the special effects wizards, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Tippett Studio. Being scared is rarely this much fun.

 

One caveat to consider:  The Spiderwick Chronicles is aimed squarely at the 12-and-under demographic.  If you don’t fit this age range, or haven’t read any of the books, or are not a huge fan of fantasy films in general, then this is territory that you may not be comfortable treading.  Approach, then, with caution.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

 

chadmenville @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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