Wednesday, April 02, 2008

SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES: More Hijinks With Highmore

SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES (fantasy adventure)

Cast: Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn and Joan Plowright
Director: Mark Waters
Time: 90 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Like "The Chronicles Of Narnia" series, this one also deals with a bunch of children encountering a world of goblins, gnomes and an ogre. Twins Jared and Simon (both played by Freddy Highmore) and sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger) arrive at the old Spiderwick Estate - a decrepit mansion their mother (Mary-Louise Parker) inherited from her dotty old aunt, Lucinda (Joan Plowright). The house has a secret. Eighty years ago, explorer Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn) wrote a Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You and, in doing so, unleashed some terrible forces. Now, an army of goblins led by the demonic ogre Mulgrath (Nick Nolte) is going all out to take the book away from Jared and use its secrets to take over the world. However, before the kids can thwart Mulgrath, they have their mother they're not crazy.

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? Unlike other fantasy adaptations, like "Golden Compass" and "Narnia", this one condenses the entire five-book series (by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black) into a single movie so we're not left waiting to discover how things will turn out. It is unabashedly a kiddie fantasy that compells us to root for the child heroes right from the start.

HITS & MISSES: Although the performances by Highmore and Bolger are passable enough, it is the little CGI creatures that are a hit with the audience, especially the youngsters. Voiced by Martin Short (as Thimbletack) and Seth Rogan (Hogasqueal), the mythical creatures are both cute and realistic. I also like the subplot about Jared missing his father and having to come to terms with his parents' separation. This is something many children of today can relate to.

THE LOWDOWN: On the whole, "The Spiderwick Chronicles" is more meaty and compact than "The Golden Compass" and it is certainly a wholesome family treat.


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