A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Spiderwick Chronicles is a fantasy adventure. It was aggressively promoted on Nickelodeon (which helped produce the movie). But even without the heavy rotation of commercials and cereal tie-ins, fans of the best-selling book series will want to see this big-screen adaptation; expect kids as young as 5 to express interest. But the under-7 crowd might be scared by a couple of intense sequences involving the goblins, head ogre Mulgarath, and the Grace children, who do get hurt (with bloody scratches) in the action. Although the movie is connected to merchandising deals with a few products, there isn't that much product placement in the actual film besides Quaker Oats and honey in plastic-bear containers. There's also no age-inappropriate language or sexuality.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
When recently separated mom Helen Grace (Mary-Louise Parker) inherits a "creepy old mansion in the middle of nowhere," her three kids have different reactions: Mallory (Sarah Bolger) is understanding, Simon (Freddie Highmore) is cautiously optimistic, and Jared (also played by Highmore) is furious. They soon discover that their great-great-uncle Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn) had unlocked the secrets to the magical realm that exists unseen around humans. When Jared disobeys a "beware" note and opens Spiderwick's 80-year-old field guide, he attracts the dangerous attention of goblins and their dark ogre leader Mulgarath (voiced by Nick Nolte) to the Grace family.
Is it any good?
Highmore -- an expressive, gentle-faced young actor in the mold of Haley Joel Osment -- does a fine job handling the twin brothers' disparate personalities. Likewise, Bolger, who co-starred in In America, is great as a big sister who knows her way around swords (she's an award-winning fencer). Both actors propel the film forward as kids caught up in a sometimes frightening fantasy world. The goblins and head ogre are scary without being terrifying like the orcs in The Lord of the Rings, and there are two memorably silly sidekicks: tiny, honey-loving house goblin Thimbletack (voiced by Martin Short) and gross-out, bird-hunting goblin Hogsqueal (Seth Rogen). Both lighten the dark mood considerably and will be beloved by younger viewers.
Those expecting a sophisticated CGI spectacle a la Peter Jackson or Robert Zemeckis may leave the theater disappointed. But director Mark Waters isn't aiming for a George Lucas-style epic employing revolutionary technology. His vivid adaptation of author Holly Black and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi's award-winning book series conveys magic with shots of swirling, flying dandelions carrying Mr. Spiderwick or colorful flowers turning into sprites. With an engaging script co-written by John Sayles, Waters has managed to ably adapt a kids-as-heroes story that parents will be happy to sit through without snoozing. And when it comes to family films, that counts for a lot.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Spiderwick Chronicles's themes. How do they compare to other fantasy movies and books? Which specific books or movies does this one remind you of? Why?
If kids have read the Spiderwick books, ask them what changes they noticed. Was the film better than you expected?
Families can also why Jared was accountable for figuring out how to defend his family from the ogre's wrath.
Why are kids rarely believed by adults in fantasy movies? Who does believe the kids?
- In theaters: February 14, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: June 23, 2008
- Cast: David Strathairn, Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker
- Director: Mark Waters
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Book Characters, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: scary creature action and violence, peril and some thematic elements
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.