Spiderwick Chronicles

Posted February 14, 2008 in Film

Every dark children’s fantasy since ET and The Neverending Story has been helmed by a stern, rabbity brown-haired boy. Authors Tony Diterlizzi and Holly Black’s most original stroke is that their franchise has two: twins Jared and Simon Grace (a dual role that forces Freddie Highmore to pull a Patty Duke by unbuttoning his shirt and changing the part in his hair). Along with no-nonsense sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger) and mom Helen (Mary Louise Parker), a brittle divorcée who uses therapy-speak, the Grace boys have moved to their ancestral estate where 80-years-before great-great-uncle Arthur (David Strathairn) stirred up trouble with the countryside’s slimy, leaping goblins and a shapeshifting ogre named Mulgrath (when in human drag played by Nick Nolte). But instead of absorbing us into this magical landscape, this adaptation crams all five books together into a frenetic and frustrating 24-hour-escapade; no sooner have we learned the laws of Boggarts than we get sidetracked by perfunctory meet-and-greets with Griffins, Sprites, Faeries, and Trolls. Ditto the CGI sequences which are scant prettier or involving than a screensaver. (No need to see it in IMAX—a laptop will do.) And while the first scenes threaten the tots with actual peril, the terror is so increasingly comic book that the last fight sequence merits more yawns than gasps. Amidst all this pixie dust, the most engaging question is whether the house Brownie (voiced by Martin Short) looks more like Bob Hoskins or Jason Alexander. (Amy Nicholson)



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