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Rated 3.21 stars
by 756 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
A Delightful Adventure
by Diana Saenger

Kids love big, scary adventure stories and that's what they get with The Spiderwick Chronicles. Adapted from the book series of the same name, this is a fun and enchanting tale about a family relocating to an abandoned home which they soon discover has more relics lurking about than spider webs and dusty antiques.

When Helen Grace (Mary-Louise Parker) splits from her husband, she leaves New York City. Taking her twin boys Jared and Simon (Freddie Highmore) and teenage daughter, Mallory (Sarah Bolger), Helen moves into the dilapidated country house she inherited from her relative Lucinda.

At one time the house belonged to Lucinda's father, naturalist Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn), a widower who doted on his young daughter but was also caught up in an imaginative world not privy to outsiders. Arthur spent years catching and archiving all sorts of creatures only he could see. His book, The Spiderwick Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You, was an original history of a magical world, and one that Lucinda believed caused her father's mysterious disappearance and landed her in a nut house.

While Helen holds down a new job, each of the Grace children handles life without a dad in his or her own way. Mallory focuses on her fencing lessons, Simon, the more studious twin, maintains a low profile, but Jared is fascinated by the old house. He's soon exploring every alcove. After finding Arthur's book, he ignores the warning not to open it. Jared’s world is soon inhabited with a forest full of odd creatures – some kindly, others menacing and threatening.

Should Jared really trust the tiny elf Thimbletack (voiced by Martin Short) who warns him he must keep the book from the goblins? Can the pig-like Hogsqueal (voiced by Seth Rogen) really help save the children from harm by the terrifying hobgoblin Mulgrath (voiced by Nick Nolte)? Will the reawakened goblins break through the safe zone and retrieve The Spiderwick Field Guide from Jared? Are the flowers with faces that turn into delightful miniature fairies really there to help the kids?

These are only a few of the questions answered in this highly entertaining adventure. Yet mixed in with the delightful imagination of the book's authors (Tony DiTerlizzi, Holly Black) and screenwriters Karey Kirpatrick (Charlotte's Web), David Berenbaum (The Haunted Mansion) and John Sayles (Silver City), is a sense of realism both kids and parents can relate to. There's the working mom scenario, problems the youngsters face upon leaving their friends and home behind and the anger Jared expresses over his dad's sudden departure.

What could have been a hodgepodge of special effects and unbelievable circumstances becomes totally believable through the acting perfection of the great cast, and mostly by Freddie Highmore. He wowed us in his 2004 performance in Finding Neverland with Johnny Depp and has been a reliable screen presence ever sense.

"There are some pretty scary scenes, but actually shooting those sequences were the most exciting," said Highmore. "Clinging to the top of a tower can make your heart race whether you’re attached to a hidden harness or not. But it’s a bit like watching the finished film -- even though you know you’re safe, you get scared. We wanted the world of ‘Spiderwick’ to feel completely real; that there was real danger and excitement, and that the kids really had to pull together to survive.”

It’s always a delight to see Joan Plowright (Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont), who plays the older Lucinda. Plowright is a natural in every role she tackles.

Thanks to costuming by Joanna Johnston, production design by James Bissell, and special effects by Industrial Light and Magic, The Spiderwick Chronicles fills a gap in solid entertainment for children and adults.

(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "PG" for scary creature action and violence, peril and some thematic elements.)

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