The Spiderwick Chronicles (PG)

Family (2008)
95mins US

Starring: Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn
Director: Mark Waters
Writer(s): Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berenbaum, John Sayles
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

The Grace family move away from the big city to a dilapidated mansion called Spiderwick Estate. Although they are initially unimpressed with their new home, twin brothers Jared and Simon soon find themselves immersed in a magical world, as they team up with their sister Mallory to investigate a series of strange happenings.

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LondonNet Film Review
The Spiderwick Chronicles

The prayers of parents, desperate for something to entertain the kids during the Easter break, have been answered - in spectacular style...

The Spiderwick Chronicles. paramount Pictures UKThe Spiderwick Chronicles is a rollicking fairy-tale full of magic and mystery, otherworldly creatures and daring, based on the books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, which reveal an alternative reality, hidden with our own, full of goblins and ogres. Dazzling computer effects bring the fantastical denizens of this parallel realm vividly to life with a rich vein of comedy that should appeal to the young, and the young at heart.

Director Mark Waters, who helmed the excellent 2003 remake of Freaky Friday and the delicious comedy Mean Girls, demonstrates once again his flair for family entertainment, eliciting strong performances from the young cast whilst keeping a tight rein on the digital trickery.

The Spiderwick Chronicles. paramount Pictures UKBritish child star Freddie Highmore (Charlie And The Chocolate Factory) continues to shine in dual roles, playing twins Jared and Simon, who move to the dilapidated family pile of Spiderwick Mansion with their older sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger) in the wake of their parents' rapidly disintegrating marriage. The children's mother, Helen (Mary-Louise Parker), struggles to put a brave face on the move. However, she's powerless to cajole Jared out of his sulk, stemming from the enforced separation from his father.

The moody tyke explores the house and discovers a book in the attic entitled Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide To The Fantastical World Around You, a hand-written study by their great-great-uncle (David Strathairn). "Do not dare to read this book, for if you take one fateful look, you barter at your life's expense, and face a deadly consequence," reads the ominous inscription on the leather-bound tome. Paying no attention to the warning, Jared opens the book and also a doorway to a world of fairies and sprites surrounding the old mansion, which can only be seen through an enchanted "seeing stone" or by the power of a hobgoblin's spittle.

The Spiderwick Chronicles. paramount Pictures UKLuckily, a friendly hobgoblin called Hogsqueal (voiced by Seth Rogen) allows Jared to view the secrets of this hidden realm by expectorating loudly in his eyes. The boy soon learns that a wicked, shape-shifting ogre called Mulgarath (Nick Nolte) seeks the Field Guide and will stop at nothing to acquire it. As the magical defences around the Spiderwick Estate weaken, Jared and Hogsqueal implore Simon and Mallory to help them repel the forces of darkness. "Join us on our quest!" proudly declares Hogsqueal, "Vengeance or death... hopefully vengeance". And so the youngsters prepare for the titanic final battle, guided by a creature called Thimbletack (Martin Short) who was entrusted with the book's safekeeping.

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a brilliant, action-packed adventure that manages to keep one foot firmly planted in reality, even during the most wondrous flights of fantasy. Computer effects are woven seamlessly into the live action, including an exhilarating flight sequence on a griffin, gathering in pace for an thunderous finale that includes an exploding oven, lashings of tomato sauce and a killer pay-off line from Hogsqueal.

The Spiderwick Chronicles. paramount Pictures UKHighmore brings out the vulnerability and gung-ho courage of the twins, including some snappy dialogue when they argue. "It's a book!" rages Jared to his sensible sibling as the forces of evil encircle the house, "I didn't think reading it would unleash goblin fury!" Bolger and Parker offer strong support and an '80s film icon enjoys a brief appearance in the closing minutes in a pivotal role. Despite the PG certificate, parents with very small or particularly sensitive children would be advised to exercise discretion. The film has a number of quite intense and scary moments, notably when the goblins inflict deep bite and scratch wounds to the Spiderwick siblings during their first altercation, and the big showdown with Mulgarath and his minions.

- Jo Planter


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