The Spiderwick Chronicles (PG)
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This is based on a series of books which I haven't read, so I can't compare it to the film, though I do know the kids in the movie are several years older than they were in the books. A woman named Helen Grace (Mary-Louise Parker) moves into the Spiderwick Estate with her daughter Mallory (Sarah Bolger) and sons Jared and Simon. (The boys are twins, though I didn't know this while watching the movie; they didn't look alike to me, but now that I'm working on this review, I find they were both played by Freddie Highmore. *shrug* Maybe I didn't notice because I was watching on a little portable DVD player; while rewatching bits of the movie on my computer, I can totally see it.) Anyway, Simon's the most sensible and smartest of the three kids (and calls himself a pacifist), while Jared is apparently a troublemaker. He's upset about their having moved from New York (where they can no longer afford to live) to this secluded location. He's also upset about his parents' divorce, and would rather live with his father. Anyway, after some arguing about various things (and Jared being blamed for things he didn't do), the kids find a dumbwaiter that had been plastered over, and Jared rides in it to find a hidden room. There he discovers the journal of Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn), who was the kids' great great uncle, and who had disappeared 80 years earlier, leaving behind his daughter, Lucinda. I guess when the Grace family moved into the house, Lucinda had recently been committed to a sanatorium, as she was believed to be crazy because she said her father had been taken away by faeries. (I'm not clear on how she managed to live in the estate for so many years without being taken away, because I doubt it was only now, in her old age, that she made this claim, but whatever. Or... actually I guess she'd been sent there because she went looking for him, and goblins slashed her wrist, which of course the authorities took to be a suicide attempt by Lucy.) Anyway, I guess she had given the estate to Helen, though when the kids visited her later, she seemed surprised by this fact, so... I'm a bit confused about how all this came about.)
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Um... this journal, or rather "Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You," was sealed and had a warning note on it, not to open it. So, naturally Jared opened the book and started reading it. It contained all kinds of information Arthur Spiderwick had learned about various magical (CGI) creatures. Soon after he began reading the book, Jared met Thimbletack (voiced by Martin Short), a brownie (a kind of household faerie that turns into a belligerent boggart when it gets angry- kind of like a little Hulk), who had been a friend of Arthur's. He wanted to protect the book, and keep it within a protective circle of toadstools that Arthur had created around the house to keep out magical creatures. There was a shape-shifting ogre named Mulgarath (Nick Nolte), who commanded an army of goblins, actually led by his servant, a bull goblin called Redcap (voiced by Ron Perlman). Mulgarath wanted to get ahold of the book so he could learn the weaknesses of all the other magical creatures, and become the most powerful creature in the world. Anyway, Jared sort of befriends Thimbletack, who he can only see because the brownie allows him to. Though Thimbletack doesn't really trust Jared, since he had ignored the warning not to read the book, and was now putting it in danger of being obtained by Mulgarath. However, he gives Jared this little stone circle thing that he can look through to see any other magical creatures, who remain invisible to the naked eye.
Anyway, some goblins kidnap Simon, mistaking him for Jared (which makes more sense now that I know they were twins), who follows and wants to rescue his brother. He meets a hobgoblin named Hogsqueal (voiced by Seth Rogen), who wanted to avenge the death of his family at the hands of Mulgarath. Hogsqueal spits in Jared's eyes, which is something hobgoblins can do to allow people to see magical creatures without the use of the seeing stone. He sort of makes a deal with Jared to help, but he easily gets distracted, always chasing after birds, which he likes to eat (this becomes an important plot point, in the end, though mostly it seems to be comic relief). Anyway, Jared does manage to rescue Simon and they return home, pursued by Redcap and his goblins. They manage to get inside the protective circle, which the goblins can't penetrate, but Mallory is still outside the circle, and doesn't believe her brothers, until the goblins start attacking her (at which point her fencing skills come in handy), and Jared gives her the seeing stone to look through. Jared pulls her inside the circle, but they're all trapped now, with more and more goblins arriving to surround the house. But they decide they need to go see Lucinda, so Simon distracts the goblins while Jared and Mallory enter a system of underground tunnels leading to town. While they're gone, Simon and Thimbletack prepare defenses for an eventual battle.
Well, Lucinda is an old woman now, of course. She tells Jared and Mallory more about her father's disappearance, and wants them to find him, as he's the only one who can help them. (They'd already tried to destroy the book, but there was a charm on it which wouldn't let them, so it was hoped he could destroy it.) They thought Arthur was dead, but Lucinda tells them he'd been held captive by some faeries called sylphs, because of the danger his knowledge posed to them. Anyway, their mother takes them home, and there's more arguing, because of course she doesn't believe in any of this stuff about faeries and goblins. But after she leaves again, Hogsqueal shows up to warn the kids that Mulgarath and the goblins are plotting to attack, having learned how to break the protective circle, when the moon rises. He also spits in Mallory and Simon's eyes, so they don't need the stone anymore. And then Jared manages to summon a griffin named Byron, who was an old pet of Arthur's, and it takes the three kids to the glade of the sylphs. They find Arthur Spiderwick, who had neither aged nor had any perception of how much time had actually passed since he was taken there 80 years ago, because of the songs of the sylphs. (He thought Lucinda was still 6 and a half, which is a bit odd since the actress playing her in flashbacks was like 14 or 15; she looked a bit younger than that, but not that much younger. Which tends to make me wonder if the Grace kids, even if they were meant to be older than in the books- the twins 9 and Mallory 13- were still meant to be a bit younger than the actors playing them, who were like 15 and 17, I think. But whatever, I suppose none of this is terribly important.) Anyway, there's nothing Arthur can do, because if he left the glade, his years would catch up with him and he'd die. But he tells Jared that since he's read the book, he doesn't need Arthur's help. So the kids return home, and when their mother gets back that evening, she finally learns the truth, and they all prepare for the impending attack.
I feel I've already given away too much of the plot, but naturally it's more fun to watch than to read about (that is, read a review about; I'm sure reading the books would be pretty fun). And I don't want to say exactly how it all turns out, but of course it's a happy ending. I did want to say that the special effects were quite good, and I really liked the story, though there was one thing at the end that... I kind of predicted would happen, but it still didn't really make sense to me, even considering the suspension of disbelief that the entire movie requires. But anyway, it's a really good movie. And I guess that's all I can think to say....