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When twins Jared and Simon Grace (Freddie Highmore) leave New York with their recently separated mother (Mary-Louise Parker) and sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger) to move into the secluded old house where their great-great-uncle, Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn) and Great Aunt Lucy (Joan Plowright) used to live, strange things start to happen. It all begins when Simon finds his Uncle Arthur's Journal that takes the form of a Field Guide, and which describes a fantastical world with fairies, goblins and ogres. Ignoring the warning message, Simon reads the journal, placing himself and his family under threat from the evil ogre Mulgarath (Nick Nolte), who want to assume its great power. With the help of a lively house brownie Thimbletack (voice of Martin Short) and friendly hobgoblin Hogsqueal (voice of Seth Rogen), the Grace children have do everything in their power to keep the journal and its secrets safe.

Review by Louise Keller:
Fantastical creatures, alternate worlds and a boy's love for his father are the key elements of The Spiderwick Chronicles, the latest fantasy adventure to hit the screens. Based on the series of best-selling children's books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, it's an enjoyable family film with a plot that is nicely realised, although it feels derivative, and I admit to being confused by the complexity of the magical characters. The film lacks the polish of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but has more to offer than The Golden Compass, which keeps its audience at arms length. It's inevitable that with so many such fantasies on offer, the storylines begin to have a familiar ring. And try as they might, the filmmakers here are never totally successful in narrowing the gap between reality and fantasy as live action and fantastical special effects converge.

A rickety old house, a family in conflict, the discovery of a secret room, a key, a chest and a beautifully bound book with a message of warning is how the film begins. Freddie Highmore plays identical twins Simon ('I don't do conflict') and Jared, the troublesome sibling who resorts to anger to help him deal with the absence of his father. Highmore is especially good as Jared, the film's protagonist, who is required to be emotionally vulnerable as well as combative while battling aggressive goblins eager to penetrate the protective circle around the house.

Youngsters will love Martin Short's mischievous house brownie Thimbletack, a little pink man with pointy ears whose form bulges when aggravated (but is pacified by honey) and Seth Rogan's bird-eating Hogsqueal, but may be scared out of their wits at Nick Nolte's terrifying ogre Mulgarath. The tomato-sauce splattered kitchen (tomato sauce kills goblins) looks somewhat like the aftermath of a massacre. Parents beware. David Strathairn makes a wonderfully eccentric great-great-uncle Spiderwick, and the scene with Joan Plowright's Great Aunt Lucinda (committed to a mental institution) is one of the film's finest moments. The only performance that hits a false note is Mary-Louise Parker's as the children's mother, who seems to be in a different film. The autumn forest setting with golden leaves scattered everywhere is beautiful, as are the swarming translucent sylphs in the mystical fairy glade.

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(US, 2008)

CAST: Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, Nick Nolte, Mary-Louise Parker, Joan Plowright, David Strathairn, Lise Durocher-Viens

VOICES: Seth Rogan, Martin Short

PRODUCER: Larry J. Franco, Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Albie Hecht, Julia Pistor

DIRECTOR: Mark Waters

SCRIPT: Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berenbaum, John Sayles ((books by Tony DiTerlizzi, Holly Black)


EDITOR: Michael Kahn

MUSIC: James Horner


RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 27, 2008 (Melbourne, Hobart); April 3 (other states)

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