When I look back at my younger years and the films I loved, they were all fantasy movies. Films like The Princess Bride, Willow, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Legend, The Secret of NIMH and The Neverending Story are what shaped my imagination. They filled my mind with wonder and gave me a sense of adventure. Sadly these great classics are now overlooked and I'm hard pressed to find any kids now who have seen most of them. They have to settle for new releases and whatever their parents will take them to. I'll admit I'm biased and always compare current fantasy to the classics I grew up with, but I'll also admit that lately these new ones haven't been half bad.
The Spiderwick Chronicles, based on the series of books written by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, is about Jared Grace's discovery of a book that contains the secrets of how to uncover a secret world that is all around us. The Grace family, consisting of brothers Jared and Simon (both played by Freddie Highmore), sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger) and mother Helen (Mary-Louise Parker), move into the Spiderwick Estate to start new lives. Jared starts exploring the house and stumbles upon a secret room which was the study of the house's previous owner, Arthur Spiderwick. Disregarding a stern warning on the front, he opens the book thereby awakening the evil forces from the secret world who want to possess the book and learn its secrets. Jared, with the help of his family and a few new strange friends, must protect the book at all costs from the evil troll, Mulgarath, and his dark minions.
When I think of the most recent fantasy films I can't say that I have liked them all. My least favorite were The Bridge to Terabithia and The Golden Compass, but I thoroughly enjoyed Stardust and Enchanted. The Spiderwick Chronicles is going to fall into the filler category for me. It was definitely not amazing while at the same time wasn't horrible. Not something I would probably see again, but it scratched my fantasy movie itch and should hold me until the next great one.
What I really liked about it was the sense of real danger posed by the goblins and Mulgarath. They don't just chase the kids around the house, they actually do some bodily harm to them. The kids are bitten and scratched to the point where we can see a bit of blood. It is by no means gory, nor is it too much for the average child. What it successfully does though is bring a real sense of suspense and risk to their mission of protecting the book. I thought it was a great idea to add that sense of realism instead of dumbing it down to protect kids. We don't give young kids enough credit for what they can handle.
The biggest problem I had with this film was how rushed it was. Nothing was really explained to the audience. Ideas and concepts were presented but never fully explained or played out. We are introduced to the book called, "Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You," but it isn't really even used. Such a cool thing, but we never get to see it being used, or hardly ever opened. We also hear a lot about this mystical hidden world but are only shown a few of the creatures from it, although lots are mentioned. Basically, I wanted more of the mystical world and less of Jared crying about his parents divorce.
This is the family film for the weekend. Obviously the fans of the books are going to be rushing to see it, but you should also see it if you have kids or if you're just a fantasy film fan. Either way it will be enjoyable, but it won't be making its way into your top 10 fantasy movies list, at least I hope it doesn't.