A very good adaptation of the popular series of books by Tony DiTerllizi and Holly Black, The Spiderwick Chronicles is one of the few family films in recent years to seamlessly integrate magical elements with a potent drama that will strike a chord with many kids.
An exceptionally talented Freddie Highmore (Charlie & the Chocolate Factory) plays twin brothers Jared and Simon Grace, caught up in their parents’ divorce and coping with a decision by their mother (Mary-Louise Parker) to uproot the boys and their sister, Mallory (Sarah Bolger) from New York City to a small town. There, the broken family moves into a spooky old mansion passed on to them by the kids’ great-aunt, Lucinda (Joan Plowright), who is spending her twilight years in managed care and whose scientist father, Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn), disappeared some 80 years ago. Jared, angry, defiant, and determined to live with the father who seems to have abandoned him, investigates strange happenings and discovers Arthur’s secret notations on fairies, ogres, and other mythical creatures that live both in and outside the house. Having no idea where his curiosity is leading, Jared soon finds that he and his family are under siege from goblins and a powerful ogre (Nick Nolte) who wants Arthur’s notebook. Suddenly, the boy who is a lightning rod for a troubled family becomes a resourceful warrior intent on saving his loved ones from powerful forces.
The Spiderwick Chronicles benefits enormously from a script (partially written by John Sayles) that treats, quite seriously, the emotional pain of its human characters and makes Jared’s will to survive the very real engine of an otherwise fantastic story. It helps, too, that director Mark Waters, who brings a warm and knowing touch to outlandish material (Freaky Friday), has a way of making the spectacular elements of The Spiderwick Chronicles genuine enough to stir real excitement and suspense. This is one of the better film adaptations of best-selling fiction for kids in some years. —Tom Keogh