The Spiderwick Chronicles

Starring Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Joan Plowright, David Strathairn and Martin Short. Directed by Mark Waters
Running Time: 96 mins
Rated: Rated PG (mild fantasy violence, Some scenes may frighten young children)

This is a very satisfying magical adventure for all except the very young and the very impressionable - it has the elements of fairy tales and nightmares.

The prologue introduces the plot, the atmosphere and the mystery very well. Arthur Spiderwick (in the 1920s) is completely absorbed in examining all kinds of mysterious creatures and writes a manuscript, a Field Book, explaining the 'other world' around him.

80 years later, along comes a 'typical' broken family, separated mother with three children who are poor and need to live in the Spiderwick mansion that they have inherited. The screenplay and the performances quickly establish the characters and their interactions (initially a lot of bickering), something a bit difficult to achieve because Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland, Charley and the Chocolate Factory, August Rush) is playing twins. But he is a young actor of great presence and skill and shows the angry and cantankerous Jared as quite different from the calmer and reasonable Simon. Sarah Bolger is Mallory, their older sister. Mary Louise Parker is their harassed mother.

It is not too long before Jared hears noises in the walls, travels up to his grand-uncle's secret room via a dumbwaiter and has discovered not only the manuscript but an elfish creature, Thimblestack (voiced by Martin Short). Out in the woods is another friendly creature, Hogsqueal (voiced comically by Seth Rogen). What Jared discovers is that the Goblins, led by Magarath (Nick Nolte) want to get the book in order to have absolute power, even if it means getting rid of everyone else.

The adventure begins and soon involves the three children. There are fights and chases and, ultimately, a siege of the house but not before Jared is able to summon up a wonderful flying griffin who takes them to see their grand uncle (David Strathairn). They also find his daughter (Joan Plowright) in an institution where she gives them good advice.

Well, maybe this is not entirely new in the era of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. But this film, based on five novels by, Tony DiTelizzi and Holly Black, is full of energy, races right along, has excellent effects and creatures and is carried well by Freddie Highmore in his two roles. The director has moved along from family and teen comedies, Freaky Friday and Mean Girls. Very entertaining - though, of course, not for 'realists'.

Paramount Opens March 27

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting

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