In an age where there are adaptations of children’s fantasy novels being churned out left and right, it’s difficult to bring anything new to the table. “The Spiderwick Chronicles” could easily be compared to other films that rhyme with “Flarnia” or “Glumanji,” but those sorts of comparisons would cheat potential viewers.
“The Spiderwick Chronicles,” based on the eponymous series of children’s novels, is a tale about the adventures of three siblings, Mallory (Sarah Bolger) and her twin brothers, Simon and Jared Grace (both of whom are played by Freddie Highmore). The siblings are forced to move with their mother into a creepy house located out in the middle of an even creepier forest, due to financial reasons. While Simon and Mallory slowly accept their new surroundings, Jared, the more irresponsible of the three, finds a sealed book that warns of grave misfortune if anyone were to open it. Of course, kids being kids, Jared opens it, and… nothing happens. There’s just a Where’s Waldo-type book inside.
Actually, there is no Waldo, and grave fortune does eventually happen to ensue. In fact, the book holds secret information laid down by Jared’s great uncle, Arthur Spiderwick, including details about sprites, goblins, trolls and the like – information which would be dangerous in the hands of the wrong types. An ogre (played by Nick Nolte) soon learns of the book, tracks down the family and vows to kill them all. The children consequently learn to set aside their squabbles and cooperate in a bid to save the family… and the world.
A general precaution should be followed for any film focused around child actors: They often have a tendency to come across as spoilt, stupid and overly precious little brats. This is not the case in this film. Both Bolger and Highmore put in solid, heartfelt performances, even though Bolger may be guilty of overacting just a bit. The genuine and petty family issues are all dealt with appropriately. The children’s mother (played by Mary Louise Parker) is, as is often the case in this type of children’s epic, swept to the side of the story and forced into a speedy reconciliation with her son at the film’s end.
The computer-generated monsters in the film are relatively believable and hold up well next to the real ones, though they are not as captivating as we have seen in recent, similar films. Unfortunately, with the exception of the very enjoyable Thimbletack (voiced by Martin Short), they still feel like CGI-rendered characters and fail to draw the audience into the narrative as well as the film’s human characters.
A comparison of this film with the novels it is based on would be irrelevant; the film is able to stand on its own right. And, as a film, “Spiderwick” is able to remain light and swiftly paced without ever feeling rushed. Though its character development is limited, and its plot remains comfortably predictable, the performances make the film an enjoyable ride. It becomes hard not to care about these amazing chronicles.