Somewhere on Harry Potter's quest for the One Ring, the golden compass has led us astray. The rules changed. Fantasy films became all about the blockbuster, sequels, mountains of merchandise, all sold to a ready-made fan base, fans who, often as not, weren't the children these stories were originally intended for. These fans seem more worried about "franchise" than fun.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is a lighthearted contrast to all those fantasies freighted with the fate of the "human world," movies toting the weight of this or that studio's stock value. A top-drawer cast, sympathetic script (indie legend John Sayles did a draft or three), a director known for delicious teen edge and one of the great cinematographers of our time have conjured up a topical, whimsical and occasionally magical action-romp through a world we know, but don't fully see.
The Spiderwick Chronicles (Paramount Pictures) Starring Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn. Directed by Mark Waters. Time 90 minutes. Rated PG for scary creature action and violence, peril and some thematic elements.