Unleashing Fantasical Creatures
Warnings not to read certain books may increase curiosity and produce the opposite result. So it goes with the 12-year-old hero of The Spiderwick Chronicles, an action-packed fantasy starring Freddie Highmore. Itís always a pleasure to watch Highmore, one of the best child actors working today, and this time pleasure is doubled because he plays a dual role. Adding to the fun here are exciting special effects, an intriguing story and a fine supporting cast.
Highmore (August Rush) portrays Jared and Simon, the twin sons of Helen Grace (Mary-Louise Parker), who has inherited a dilapidated old house from Lucinda (Joan Plowright), a relative now confined in a mental institution. Helen, estranged from her husband, moves into the scary abode despite protests from her sons and their teenage sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger).
When strange noises are heard through the walls, Jared -- the more rebellious member of the family -- decides to investigate. Discovering the cobwebbed, dusty office of his great uncle Arthur Spiderwick (the always wonderful David Strathairn), the lad becomes fascinated with what he finds there. Many years ago, Uncle Arthur, a reclusive scientist who studied the magical forces in nature, secretly documented his work in The Spiderwick Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. Fearing dangerous consequences for him and his daughter Lucinda, he hid the book, then mysteriously disappeared. Jared, of course, finds the guide. He ignores the written warning about what can happen if he reads it -- thereby unleashing a host of fantastical creatures, some obsessed with possessing the book no matter what the cost.
Among those incredible creatures are: an immense group of horrible hobgoblins led by the evil Mulgrath (gravelly-voiced by Nick Nolte); a giant ogre that rises up when least expected; a wondrous griffin (so impressive flying through the air like a circus airplane!); the pig-like, bird-eating Hogsqueal (voiced by Seth Rogen); and lovely flowers turning into even lovelier tiny fairies. Luckily, a honey-addicted little elf named Thumbletack (voiced amusingly by Martin Short) takes his mission of protecting the book quite seriously.
Jared does his best to persuade the studious Simon and skeptical Mallory concerning what heís found. Finally, with their mother off at work, the youngsters band together to defeat the forces of evil. How refreshing it is to see siblings cooperate in movies instead of constantly arguing or fighting!
Should very young children see The Spiderwick Chronicles? Because of some intense sequences of peril as well as a few scary scenes featuring those terrifying hobgoblins and that huge ogre, I donít recommend it for toddlers. But I think most children six and above would love this well-made fantasy adventure. I also believe adults accompanying children will be entertained as well. My husband and I didnít look at our watches or squirm in our seats once during the entire movie -- which means we were just as much enthralled as the kiddies sitting around us.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "PG" for scary creature action and violence, peril and some thematic elements.)