Is it me or does it seem like there is a glut of fantasy novels starring children being adapted for the big screen lately? It’s almost as if they’ve become the new hot thing in Tinsletown giving the comic book hero a run for their money (nothing can actually replace them from the top spot). The latest is The Spiderwick Chronicles, a movie that hopes to capture the imagination that The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe did while dodging the pitfalls of The Golden Compass.
However, for the most part I’m hard pressed to find much of a difference between any of these movies. Like I mentioned previously, they’re all based off of an acclaimed series of fantasy novels. The main characters are all youngsters. Each showcase alternate worlds which contain magnificent creatures. Setting them apart is how these fantasy realms are accessed and what trials and tribulations the heroes must undergo while immersed there (and let’s not forget production budget). In the case of The Spiderwick Chronicles, the alternate dimension and its inhabitants can easily be interacted with – it’s just a matter of opening ones eyes and becoming aware of it (the use of special glasses or hobgoblin spit is highly recommended though).
The task at hand is to keep “Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You” written by Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn) protected. It’s a tome of great information outlining the worlds magical creatures and their deepest secrets. Desperate for this information is the evil ogre Mulgarath (voiced by Nick Nolte), who is intent on subjugating the world under his ghastly hand. Left alone to stop the book from falling into the wrong hands was the mischievous brownie, Thimbletack (voiced by Martin Short), who for many years did a stellar job, until the Grace family – twins Jared and Simon (both played by Freddie Highmore), Mallory (Sarah Bolger) and Helen (Mary-Louise Parker) – moved into the Spiderwick estate. As you might guess, little Jared finds and opens the sealed book, which sets off a chain of events – most remarkable of which is it alerts the ogre king of the books whereabouts. This forces the divided Grace family to unite (father moved away, children are confused over divorce, mom is stressed and inattentive) and face off against the forces of darkness.
I’d be curious to see if the books capture the spirit of the genre more, since the movie came across rather flat. The story felt incomplete and rushed. I literally got the feeling that the entire movie spanned at most a day (was it supposed to?). And what a day it was – the kids are able to figure out the secrets of the book, sneak out to town to get the aid of their Aunt Lucinda (Joan Plowright), fly off to some nether world to seek additional aid and make it back home in time to intercept their mother and fight a climatic battle. Phew! As for the characters, they weren’t fully fleshed out either. I suppose some how, some way I was supposed to care about the plight of this family unit but all I figured out was Jared lashes out at his mom and blames her for the divorce, and that everyone else in the family fights with and yells at Jared. For what it is worth though, I’ll give credit to Highmore for pulling double duty and doing a fairly good job at it, even though I couldn’t care less about his characters.
So for me, The Spiderwick Chronicles is one of those movies that just didn’t live up to its potential. It ranks right down there with, but perhaps slightly better than, that confusing compass flick mentioned earlier in this review. So now I’ll just patiently wait for the summer release of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian – it wouldn’t hurt for you to do the same.