The Spiderwick Chronicles is a creature feature about cute kids fleeing the jaws of death, saving each other in the nick of time, escaping by the skin of their teeth.
We can tolerate Hollywood heroes suffering for their misguided moves, but, mama mia, we won't watch urchins get minced, mashed, smashed, squashed, strangled, exploded, imploded, scrunched, crunched, cooked, consumed or catapulted to Kingdom Come.
Thankfully, nine year old twins, Jared and Simon, and sister Mallory cleverly evade each of those calamities before vanquishing the ogre and his frightening posse of overly pissed Furies -- all in desperate need of anger management training.
There's no point in explaining the plot: It is so convoluted with fantastical fairies, brownies, griffins, goblins, boggarts, ogres, trolls, tufts, sylphs and sprites - providing computer artists with a orgy of opportunities to animate the improbable.
Basically, recently abandoned mom (Mary-Louise Parker) settles with daughter Mallory (Sarah Bolger) and twins (both played by Freddie Highmore) on the Spiderwick Estate, a more infested than haunted family mansion.
The Spiderwick Chronicles sounds like a recycled saga about monsters versus kids in a spooky house or a Narnish movie about siblings disappearing into armoires to discover a magical universe. And it is. So what makes it special? The outstanding casting.
Highmore's dual performance talking to himself on a blue screen set presages an amazing career. The athletic Bolger ably projects a balance of panic and smarts. Weeds Parker continues to perfect a screen mom unhappily upgraded to the downbeat role of supermom.
Nick Nolte just has to show up in a barbarously barberless hairdo and he's scary. But as Mulgarath, he also voices the gigantic CG ogre into which he morphs to and fro.
David Strathairn, as the great uncle Arthur Spiderwick, originally discovered the quixotic chimerical world and documented it in his too-dangerous-to-read chronicles. His daughter, the winsome Auntie Lucinda, played by veteran Joan Plowright, convincingly believes in fairies. Martin Short and Seth Rogen make vocal appearances for animated characters.
So how old should your children be to enjoy this movie without being scared out of their jammies? Imagine a snarling ogre enlarged to the size of your TV screen and decide for yourself.
Director Mark Waters delivers a deadpan endorsement of the phantasmagoria story. Creators of the original books, writer Holly Black and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi talk about their own Spiderwick world. Computer artists cover the evolution of character design and execution.
An impressive, informative and affectionate animated book, with a two page spread per creature, is a pictorial encyclopedia of the rara avis, brutes and beasts that reside at Spiderwick.
The requisite how-we-did-it sequence explains the intertwining of computer generated imagery and sets. And videos of the voiceovers show how good actors effect and affect the quality of an animated character.
The conversations with the Spiderwick stars reveal the amazing accomplishment of the young performers: Highmore is English and Bolger is Irish and they somehow can run, fence, act and speak perfect American English at the same time. Maybe in our multifarious modern world, tweeners are evolving into expert multitasking maniacs.
There are, of course, deleted scenes. Why waste them?
With gusto, my personal crusade for an Academy Award category for the best Extras and Special Features continues with The Spiderwick Chronicles. These mini-productions are a model of enthusiasm, effort and detail. The thorough offerings indulge and inform anyone hankering for more faeried fables and fictitious facts.
Director: Mark Waters
Cast: Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, David Strathairn, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Martin Short, Joan Plowright, Seth Rogan
Length: 101 minutes
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2:35:1
Dolby True HD
Dolby Digital 5.1
Dolby Digital 5.1
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese