Pleasant surprises come when expectations are low. Movies aimed at kids today are a mixed bag. Pixar has a solid record of rising above the fray. Then there are atrocities like The Smurfs. Some might blame the bad films on trying to turn questionable source material into cinematic gold. If that’s the case, I hear the Harry Potter books are pretty good. The films? That’s a tougher call. Enter The Spiderwick Chronicles, a film I originally mistook for a Harry Potter wannabe. My mistake.
Twins Jared and Simon move to a spooky old house, previously owned by their great uncle Arthur Spiderwick, with their older sister, Mallory and mother. Jared is upset about the move and angry with his mom. He blames her for breaking up the family while Simon, Mallory and mom know the truth. Dad ran off with another woman. Before there is any time to settle into the home strange happenings occur which lead Jared to discover Arthur Spiderwick’s book. The tome details Arthur’s findings of magical creatures all around him, some good and some evil, like the ogre Mulgarath. If the book falls into Mulgarath’s hands it’s game over. And that sets the stage for the rest of the movie which includes some fairly intense chase scenes, jump scares, and even a little blood drawn – a bit surprising for a modern children’s PG movie. The story moves along at a quick pace with good enough computer animation and child actors who aren’t annoying.
There is just the right amount of comedy relief provided in the form of Hogsqueal (Seth Rogen) a friendly bird eating hobgoblin and Thimbletack (Martin Short) an odd, small creature who turns into a nasty little green monster when he gets upset. The humor from both the animated characters comes in the natural rhythm of the film, though one could argue that the end of the final showdown is anti-climatic with its comedic result. My kids loved it. I think the lightheartedness provided a needed break from the edge of the seat intensity.
Spiderwick Chronicles is a fun action packed kids fantasy movie. The plot is relatively simple which enables a fast paced story set in a magical world full of adventure and danger. And the danger feels refreshingly real as there are consequences and scares as a result. Add some well timed laughs and it all adds up to an entertaining family film.