RetroReviews #24: The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)





I grew up on Nickelodeon cartoons, but whenever I’d hear the phrase “nickelodeon movie” these days, I tended to get wary of the idea. The brand conjured up images of Good Burger and Snow Day, which I wouldn’t exactly describe as the best kids movies. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when I watched 2008’s The Spiderwick Chronicles. It was a surprisingly polished, interesting, and serious fantasy film, with none of the hallmarks I associated with the Nickelodeon brand. It’s certainly not the best kids movie to come out of the fantasy genre, but it does a very good job of presenting the material that it has to work with.

Other reviewers have noted one of the best “special effects” of the movie is actually actor Freddie Highmore, who portrays siblings in the movie: Jared and Simon Grace. I was absolutely floored when I found it was the same actor in duel roles, since the two characters seem to be entirely portrayed by different actors. The brothers are supposed to be identical twins but come across as more fraternal twins — they look alike, but were raised in different countries, and have entirely different personalities, traits, and mannerisms. Other very cool effects in the movie include a glass eyepiece that the characters can look through in order to physically see the invisible creatures they’ve conjured up. These scenes added a very nice twist to the story and kept the audience on its toes.

The basic premise of the movie is that the Grace siblings: Simon, Jared, and their older sister Mallory,move into Spiderwick Estate and stumble upon a world of faeries that they never knew existed. Of course, these leads to other magical creatures who want to control the fairy realm trying to stop our heroes, and thus the adventure begins.

A few portions of the movie didn’t make a lot of sense to me – friendly dwarf characters morph into mean nasty little goblins whenever they get angry. If the movie explained why or what are the consequences of this, I must have missed it, and perhaps it made more sense in the book. As it stands in the film, they just seem to be grouchy mini-versions of The Incredible Hulk for brief periods of time, and it didn’t really affect the plot.

The ending left me interested enough in seeing more of this world, and curious what direction they’d take a sequel – since The Spiderwick Chronicles is a series of books, and this adaptation seemed to work better than other fantasy children’s novels adaptations I’ve seen lately, such as The Golden Compass and Inkheart. The film made a decent profit, but alas, given that it was released in 2008, I doubt any such sequel will be made. Instead, The Hunger Games “trilogy” is getting FOUR films, when I thought the first film worked best as a decent stand alone story, and didn’t need to be revisited. I guess that’s the quixotic nature of Hollywood.

If you have a chance, check out The Spiderwick Chronicles. It fits the idea of a family film very well. Young or old, this is an compelling adventure story that will engage its audience.

*** out of ****


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