Cast: Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Seth Rogen, Martin Short, David Strathairn
Director: Mark Waters
Script: Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berenbaum, John Sayles
The excellent young actor Freddie Highmore stands out in The Spiderwick Chronicles, playing twin brothers Simon and Jared, whose family moves to a dusty old house in the woods after their parents separate. Jared, the more impulsive of the brothers, doesn’t waste a single day before discovering the world of fantastic creatures that exists just outside. But the ogre king Mulgarath sees his chance to destroy the boy and claim all the power of the magical world.
The richness of Spiderwick is in the subtext. Jared, the protagonist, is a hyperactive problem child with anger issues. At the beginning of the story, he’s thoroughly unpleasant: hostile, violent and impatient. But you sympathize with his frustrations, though, and that’s precisely where the fantasy comes from. It’s not that this world seems real, it’s that it may or may not spring entirely from Jared’s imagination. The real magic happens when the boy gets his brother and sister to believe in the goblin world around them as well, because we get to watch Jared vent his frustrations creatively and invite others to share in the game.
Nevertheless, the film does stumble a bit over that situation. Like all great fantasy movies, it’s about the fantasy of children. But it loses all magic when Jared shows his mother the existence of this world. Up until the adult intrusion, the world of Spiderwick had been one of imagination made reality; once the mother discovers it, it’s merely reality. The climactic battle to defend the home, when the suspense should have been most unbearable, was actually when I felt bored.
Still, Spiderwick is extremely entertaining. The kids are going to love it…and even parents will enjoy an escape from the difficulties of adult life through a young boy’s imagination.