Another fantasy film aimed at kids based on a series of popular books is at hand, and although The Spiderwick Chronicles never appears all that original it is thoroughly entertaining for old and young alike. With great special effects and some believable characters (yes, even the human ones...), don’t be too quick to dismiss this as just another wizards and goblins franchise.
When a mother and her three children move into a new home, their fractured relationships pale in comparison to the creepy dwelling they now find themselves in. Simon and Jared are two very different twins (both played by Highmore) and it’s Jared’s sense of adventure that leads him to fin a well-hidden book that was written by an old relative many years ago. Despite warnings against opening the tome, Jared can’t resist and soon finds himself reading about a lost fantastical world that lives in parallel to our own. The pages act as a guide allowing Jared to see things as they really are, including the many creatures that exist otherwise hidden from our eyes. However, not all the creatures are peace-loving: evil Mulgarath will do anything to own the book and use it to take over both worlds. Jared turns to his family for help and eventually they rally round but it might be too late, so it seems only the book’s author can prevent disaster.
The casting of Highmore as the twins is an excellent choice. He adds something to both characters on screen, and as Jared he displays the requisite turmoil and anger (it’s the old father issues routine) to give weight to the film's non-magical elements. The relationship between all the siblings is well realised and Parker is also excellent as the caring mother struggling to deal with some all too real problems. The blend of light and dark moments sometimes works against the film; pratfalls and gross-out moments seem a little forced, even if the latter have a crucial role to play. The moments of seriousness are delivered absolutely straight-faced by all the performers — especially Strathairn, who makes a very important cameo come to life.
There is very little to mark this out from other films in the fantasy genre and it is certainly no epic in the mould of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. It is, however, an entertaining journey into magical world which, as the tagline implies, is a lot closer to ours than that of Tolkien or Rowling.