Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 23 November 2008
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
The Spiderwick Chronicles
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Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
Arachnophobes take note: There are no spiders in The Spiderwick Chronicles, although you’ll find a web of mystery and deception. The name comes from a magical field guide, written and illustrated by Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn) and revealing all of the secrets of the natural world; one can differentiate a Sylph from a Fairy, a Brownie from a Goblin.
The book is coveted one very mean ogre, Mulgarath (Nick Nolte when in human form) who, along with his toad-shaped goblin mob, continually try to relieve Arthur of his masterpiece, endangering his family. Even 6-year old daughter Lucinda (Jordy Benattar) is fair game for the relentless invaders. Arthur takes steps to magically protect the house from these evil forces and then mysteriously disappears.
Skip forward 80 years to the present day where Helen Grace (Mary-Louise Parker) and her three kids, Mallory (Sarah Bolger), and twin sons Jared and Simon (Freddie Highmore in a dual role) roll up to the inherited house after an impending divorce from husband Richard (Andrew McCarthy) in New York City. She’s inherited the house from her aunt and only living relative, Lucinda Spiderwick, (Joan Plowright) now 86, who’s been institutionalized most of her life from her hallucinations and assertions of magical beings both good and evil. Arthur was Lucinda’s father, who wrote the titular book with all of its coveted secrets.
Mallory Grace is into fencing and pretty competent handling a sword. Simon dislikes conflict and is quiet and introspective. Jared likes to vent his frustration by beating inanimate objects with sticks.
There’s always one kid who takes a divorce particularly hard, blaming the custodial parent for alienating the other; that’s Jared. Hoping for a parental reconciliation, the boy resents his mother, probably finding her to be part Hell and part Grace, as her name implies. Money’s tight. The boys fight; the boys and their sister fight. Helen just sighs. Jared is known as the troublemaker in the family, and when strange events happen, like Mallory’s hair being meticulously tied to her headboard in tiny sections, he’s the first one to be blamed.
The old house begins to reveal its secrets, starting with a hidden dumbwaiter that carries Jared to Mr. Spiderwick’s secret attic. Something wants to discourage the boy, but being snoopy and exploratory, Jared finds a leather-bound book in an old trunk with the title Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. Reading and immediately dismissing the warning note on the book, Jared delves into the elaborate pages, discovering all manner of creature and foliage, and incurring the wrath of in-house Brownie Thimbletack, (voiced by Martin Short) who turns into a Boggart when angered, but can be appeased by honey.
The Field Guide answers all those burning questions like the difference between a Brownie and a Boggart, a Goblin and a Hobgoblin, etc.
Eventually Jared discovers that the house has a special force-field of protection around it that Mulgarath and the goblins can’t cross. They are determined to get the book, which will make Mulgarath powerful beyond all measure. Jared brings Simon and Mallory in on the situation in short order, enduring initial disbelief followed by a gratifying solidarity between the three siblings.
Jared and Simon become allies with hobgoblin Hogsqueal (voiced by Seth Rogen) who’s good for background information on Mulgarath and his goblins. Hogsqueal has a weakness for birds, munching on them like potato chips. He can bestow magical vision to see the fantastical world by spitting in one’s face. Otherwise you need a stone ring held up to one eye to view it. Without that, it’s invisible. Hogsqueal is the family’s outdoor pal, much as Thimbletack is their indoor one.
The kids discover magical uses for tomato sauce and salt and how to summon a Griffen (myth, not Merv). They visit sanitarium-dwelling Aunt Lucinda to hear her story and that of great-great Uncle Arthur’s. Puzzle pieces come together, while the persecution continues by goblins led by Mulgarath who fortuitously comes into possession of several of the book’s pages, one of which tells how to remove the protective force-field around the house.
Meanwhile, mom Helen is still in the dark about all of the magical occurrences. Thankfully, she’s brought up to speed pretty quickly by the kids and joins their quest. Everyone now waits for the full-moon, which will unleash Mulgarath’s army on the newly unprotected house.
British citizen Freddie Highmore will have you convinced he is two different people. Sarah Bolger effectively evolves from belligerent teen to protective big sister. Joan Plowright is a misunderstood treasure as Aunt Lucinda and Mary-Louise Parker’s Helen is not too exasperating as the mom who thinks she knows her kids. A scene with Andrew McCarthy shows him to be back on the acting horizon in a forceful way.
Director Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday) is no stranger to adolescent behavior and odd occurrences. Here he makes the best of it, getting believable, antagonistic, uneasy camaraderie from the siblings. There’s charm in the fantastical world, but also very dark forces, making this film a bit too intense for the under-seven crowd.
Screenwriters Karey Kirkpatrick (Charlotte’s Web) and David Berenbaum (Elf) have brought the Tony DiTerlizzi/Holly Black books to the screen in an enchanting albeit violent way. You’ll be charmed, alarmed and tomato-sauce armed. What you won’t be is bored.