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Published March 21st, 2008 | by Coco Forsythe

The Spiderwick Chronicles Review

Classification: PG Director: Mark Waters Rating: 3.5/5

The Spiderwick Chronicles are the latest fantasy adaptation to make it to the big screen and, perhaps because the scope of the story is less ambitious, the adaptation is much more successful than other more high profile fantasy films like The Golden Compass.

The Grace children – twins Simon and Jared (Highmore) and their older sister Mallory (Bolger) – impoverished by their parents’ impending divorce, are forced to move to the rundown, rural Spiderwick Estate, which their mother (Parker) has inherited from a mad aunt (Joan Plowright). Jared, who out of all the children is closest to their father, is resentful and angry. The house, like something out of the Addams Family, is creepy, and full of oddities like hundreds of jars of honey. And there are noises in the walls…

Jared, exploring the house, discovers the attic, where he meets the house brownie, Thimbletack (Short), and finds a mysterious book, with a note on the cover warning against reading it.

Thimbletack explains to Jared that the house used to belong to Arthur Spiderwick (Strathairn), who was aware of the hidden world around him and documented it in the book, before mysteriously disappearing. If Mulgarath (Nolte), the evil shapeshifting ogre, can get his hands on the book, he will use the knowledge within to destroy all the hidden creatures and rule the forest, and for this reason Spiderwick hid the book in the attic and protected the house with a magic spell. Unfortunately Jared has already been outside with the book, and the evil goblins who work for Malgarath have seen it. They kidnap Simon, thinking he is Jared, and then besiege the house. Can Jared, Mallory and Simon, with the help of Thimbletack, Hogsqueal (Rogan), and a helpful griffin, find Arthur Spiderwick before it’s too late?

I haven’t read the novels on which the film is based though I believe they are a series and they look a lot like the Lemony Snicket books. But as simple, slightly old-fashioned family entertainment the film works very well, with a great central performance from Freddie Highmore as the twins, doing a great job of giving them distinctive personalities, and without relying on props like glasses or radically different hairstyles. Also excellent, and well cast, is Sarah Bolger as older sister Mallory who, as luck would have it, is a fencer – a skill that comes in very handy in her new life. Both children are English, and cope with the American accents with aplomb.

The story doesn’t hold up to any kind of critical scrutiny, but it doesn’t really matter – it rattles along at a great pace with fantastic effects and enough tension to make you genuinely believe that the children are in real peril, The flying sequence is particularly powerful, and the creature effects are real winners, especially when Thimbletack transforms from a brownie to a boggart when he’s angry, like a very small version of the incredible hulk. Luckily honey placates him. And ketchup kills a goblin. Make a note.

Related Links

Q&A with Nick Nolte who plays ogre called Mulgarath

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