What’s a jaded old film hack like me doing praising a Nickelodeon kids movie?
With fantastic CGI creatures, excllenet performances from the kids and adults, a beautiful score, Spiderwicke Chronicles delivers new twist on classic fairy tale themes.
A family moves to a creaky old New England style mansion after the breakup of the parents marriage, only to find noises in the walls, a secret attic and a book documenting the many secrets of the supernatural left behind by the missing Arthur Spiderwicke.
The stars are Britiain’s Sarah Bolger as the elder sister Mallory, while Andrew McCarthy plays twins Jared and Simon, one adventurous and disruptive, fighting back against his parents’ break up, the other a nerdy, quiet id, retreating into his shell.
Among the adults, Nick Nolte (48 Hours) appears briefly as a human, then voicing the ogre Mulgrath; Mary Louise Parker (West Wing, Weeds) underplays, as always, in a thankless role as the mother, Joan Plowright is the mad auntie (or is she?) and David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck) is lost and other-worldly as the missing Henry Spiderwicke.
Seth Rogen (Knocked Up) as goblin Hogsqueal and Martin Short (Innerspace) as house gremlin Thimbletack both go hyper in the voice acting. It works.
I don’t know the source novels which Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berenbaum and John Sayles have adapted; all I can say is director Mark S. Waters has made an energetic and scary fantasy. I dare say there’s a wealth of material jammed into an hour and a half running time, and not all of it hangs together.
Despite that, there are many thrilling chases and a great flying sequence, the family threatens to squabble and fall apart at every turn, Jared makes several wrong decisions and there’s a genuine sense of threat from the ogre and his army of goblins (nicely balanced for comedy as the latterday Gremlins).
The battle with the goblins is well-staged, Mulgrath’s downfall neatly accomplished, the family pulls together in a crisis and the movie avoids the obvious sentimental ending. Go cower behind the sofa with the kids. RC
The Spiderwicke Chronicles (2008)
Director: Mark Waters
Writers: Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berenbaum, John Sayles
Certificate: PG (UK)
Running time: 1 hr. 37 min.
Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure, Fantasy
Cast: Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn, Joan Plowright, Martin Short, Seth Rogen, Nick Nolte
Related: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey