The search has ended for Paramount. The studio has found its next great franchise with "The Spiderwick Chronicles."
This tale of humans against a host of magical creatures heats up rather quickly. The Grace family moves into an old house left to them by an aunt ( Joan Plowright) who has been confined to a mental institution. As she puts it, when you start talking about ogres and fairies, confinement comes quickly.
But she's not daffy. The house is the hiding spot for a book that tells all the secrets of the mystical world that exists just outside our field of vision.
The two worlds collide when Jared Grace (Freddie Highmore) discovers the book. Jared defies a rather explicit warning to not read the manuscript composed by one of his ancestors. His impetuousness starts a battle with an odd collection of characters both great and small.
The film has the structure of past efforts such as "Jumanji" or "Zathura: A Space Adventure." Those films featured youngsters being pressed into fights for survival. The same happens here.
Jared and his twin brother Simon (also played by Highmore), along with their older more skeptical sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger), must find a way to destroy the book and end the threat of a creature know as Mulgrath (voiced by Nick Nolte). The world is at stake.
The movie does occasionally brush up against being overly sentimental, but in this genre the tendency is to play everything bigger than life. Director Mark Waters keeps a tight enough rein on the movie so the overly sentimental moments don't distract.
Highmore does a good job of making his two characters seem different. The young Brit does struggle with his American accent and his dialogue seems forced. And Mary-Louise Parker turns in a rare bad performance as the mother of the kids.
But these are small flaws in what is overall a fanciful and fun film that should spawn additional on-screen adventures.
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