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Still shot from the movie: The Spiderwick Chronicles.

The Spiderwick Chronicles

When the Grace family is bequeathed the estate of their Great-Uncle Spiderwick, they inherit a lot more than just a ramshackle house in the country. Amongst the bric-a-brac young Jared (Freddie Highmore) finds a sealed book that reveals a world of mysterious, magical creatures --not all of whom are friendly. Get the movie review and more. »

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Overall: B+ --
Violence: C+
Sexual Content: A-
Language: B+
Drugs/Alcohol: A-
Theater Release: 13 Feb 2008
Video Release: 23 Jun 2008
MPAA Rating: PG
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Jared Grace (Freddie Highmore) is angry about everything. Lashing out in argumentative temper tantrums, the young teen protests his older sister Mallory's (Sarah Bolger) bossy attitude, his twin brother Simon's (also played by Highmore) refusal to show emotions and most especially his mother's (Mary-Louise Parker) decision to leave his father (Andrew McCarthy). No matter what reasons they offer, he can't see why his Mom is getting divorced and moving the family from New York City to an isolated, creepy mansion she inherited from some crazy relatives.

But if the situation seems bad, it is only about to get worse. Chasing what he thinks is a rat lurking in the old walls of their new accommodations, Jared accidentally uncovers a way into his Great Uncle Arthur Spiderwick's secret study where he finds a sealed book. Ignoring the strong warning attached to the cover promising a "deadly consequence" for anyone daring to look at the Field Guide, the curious boy rips it open and begins reading about the fantastical world Uncle Arthur (David Strathaim) observed and chronicled. Although unaware, this reckless act reignites the wrath of a Mulgarath (voice of Nick Nolte), a shape-changing ogre who has been lying in wait to get his evil hands on the volume.

Jared first becomes aware that his Great Uncle's writings are more than just the ramblings of the insane when Thimbletack (voice of Martin Short), a brownie given to severe mood swings, makes himself visible. Scolding the thoughtless lad, the elfish being opens his eyes to the danger he's unleashed -- however the damage is already done. As packs of toad-like goblins surround the house, threatening the life of anyone that unwittingly steps out of the safety zone, Jared realizes he needs his siblings and he wants to keep them safe. In order to do so, he'll have to patch up his torn relationships and rally their support.

Based on a book penned by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, The Spiderwick Chronicles weaves a web of wonder and adventure. Using a mix of live action and computer-generated characters, the movie depicts the war that breaks out between the children and the power-hungry Mulgarath's minions. These often frightful creatures include clawing amphibians that kidnap and inflict slash wounds and a large lizard-shaped troll with the tracking abilities of a bloodhound. (Some human and green goblin blood is shown.) Then there is the ogre himself who is a fearsome monster in his natural form, but capable of appearing as anything from harmless humans to ravens, snakes and reptiles. Even the good-guys can be a bit alarming, like in the case of Hogsqueal (voice of Seth Rogen), a spitting piggish hobgoblin with an appetite for live birds (that he is seen devouring in a single gulp). Because much of the plot focuses on the battles between these two groups and the ensuing perils, the film will likely prove too scary for young viewers.

While it is disappointing the movie doesn't take more time to portray the softer, gentler inhabitants of the unseen world, such as flowery fairies and dandelion-seed sprites, the story does illustrate the importance of families and the strength of teamwork. As Jared learns to channel his frustrations and serve those he loves, he unveils life's real magic -- the kind that is all around us if only we have eyes to see.

The Spiderwick Chronicles is rated PG: for scary creature action and violence, peril and some thematic elements.

Cast: Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Joan Plowright,
Studio: Paramount Pictures

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About the Reviewer: Donna Gustafson

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