COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT/NICKELODEON PICTURES
It’s not every day that cute can be flawlessly mixed with ugly, but “The Spiderwick Chronicles” manages to pull it off. Aimed at a younger audience, the film is predictable, childish and more than a little corny. Even so, it is an imaginative escape into the hidden world around us.
“Spiderwick” follows the Grace family as they move from New York City to a little garden-variety town in the middle of New England. The family is relocating to the Spiderwick home, the former residence of their great uncle Arthur Spiderwick who vanished some 80 years prior.
Jared Grace is the angry explorer of the family, lashing out at his mom, Helen Grace (Mary-Louise Parker). Jared is tempered by his older sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger) and more importantly by his pacifist twin brother Simon. Jared and Simon are both played by Freddie Highmore.
Soon after moving into the Spiderwick home, the family begins to understand all is not as it seems. Jared’s curiosity leads him to the field guide left behind by Arthur Spiderwick. The book tells of a mystical world of fairy tale creatures that dwell just out of human knowledge, but not for long. Jared’s discovery of the book alerts the less friendly creatures of its presence. The battle is on as they assault the family in a quest for the book and the power its secrets can give to the ill-intentioned who possess it, particularly the Ogre Mulgrath, played by Nick Nolte.
“Spiderwick” is a fantastical tale told with incredible special effects. The creatures, although obviously computer generated, blend in seamlessly with the world around them. The action is fanciful and fun, eliciting childhood memories of imagination and excitement. Mallory Grace’s fencing even lends some swordplay to the mix, albeit the film is not a masterpiece of choreography.
The fantasy of “Spiderwick” is that of a child’s imagination. While that imagination is entertaining and vivid, there is nothing intellectual or deep about the movie. The four attempts at anything serious appear half-hearted. There are no layers or curve balls - the plot is straightforward and easily predicted.
Childish as the film may be, it does afford an ever-creepy performance by Nolte as he terrifies the family. As Mulgrath, he is a wonderful boOgeyman, intimidating and angry. Parker achieves the perfect high-strung mother trying to cope with her kids and a major change in her life. The star of the show by far is the performance of Highmore as twin brothers Jared and Simon. Highmore shines as both twins, seamlessly portraying two wholly different characters to a level of believability that, if one were not to read the credits, he or she could easily mistake the single actor playing two roles for two real life twins.
Neither serious nor very artistic, “Spiderwick” is only as enjoyable as the sense of childish wonder that audiences bring to the viewing. The special effects harken back to the imagination of youth, but providing a trip down memory lane is the film’s only appealing aspect to older audiences. Clearly a kid’s movie, “Spiderwick” excels at captivating action, good acting and wonderful visuals. The film opens in theaters this Thursday.