I couldn't tell you the exact facts and figures involved but it seemed to me that, when it was released, The Spiderwick Chronicles didn't do all that well at the box office. I hope it did okay but it certainly didn't create any major excitement and talk of big new franchise opportunities. That's a shame because it's a very enjoyable family film. The same thing happened to Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events (another family film I also enjoyed a lot). Hmmm, I hope I'm not jinxed.
Anyway, to the movie. The Spiderwick Chronicles. Young Freddie Highmore takes on two roles here, playing twin brothers Jared and Simon Grace. After their parents separate, the two boys, along with their older sister (Sarah Bolger) and mother (Mary-Louise Parker) move into the Spiderwick Estate, an old and run-down house in the middle of nowhere. Jared is convinced that his mother is to blame for this family split and he reacts with anger and insolence, resenting every minute of his new life. That all changes, however, when he discovers a book filled with details of many magical creatures living in the area. He doesn't believe any of it, of course, until he actually sees the creatures for himself. There are quite a few nice, sweet creatures to be observed but, sadly, also a number of nasty baddies out to cause harm and get their hands on the book in order to deliver it to their master, an ogre named Mulgarath (Nick Nolte). Jared must keep the book safe at all costs, which isn't going to be easy unless he enlists the help of his family. Will anyone believe him?
Based on the books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, this is an imaginative, consistently entertaining adventure that mixes great special effects with a great cast all portraying nicely rounded characters. Freddie Highmore is a very talented young actor and gives two great performances as Jared and Simon, Sarah Bolger is very likeable as Mallory and Mary-Louise Parker plays a very understanding and loving mother. Nick Nolte isn't onscreen physically for very long but he's excellent whether voicing Mulgarath or portraying him in human form. There are also roles for the likes of the great David Strathairn, the great Joan Plowright and the . . . . . ummm . . . . pleasant Andrew McCarthy. They may not be seen onscreen but Martin Short and Seth Rogen provide some enjoyable vocals for a couple of creatures that are on the side of good.
Three people, including John Sayles, worked to adapt the screenplay and the end result is well balanced. There are moments that may feel a bit intense for younger children but there are also many moments of comedy, spectacle (a flight on a griffin is a particular highlight) and sheer wonderment to keep everyone happy.
Director Mark Waters has given audiences a couple of poor movies in his career but he's also responsible for the remake of Freaky Friday, the great Mean Girls and, his first film, The House Of Yes. The Spiderwick Chronicles easily sits alongside that lot and I think that my high rating here could easily rise after future repeat viewings.