Young children embark on an adventure where they encounter and even have to fight magical beings, and where they in fact travel to magical lands. Sound familiar?
With most people having seen or been aware of the half-dozen "Harry Potter" films, the recent "Golden Compass" movie, the "Bridge to Terabithia" film, and "The Chronicles of Narnia," the plot or events in this film would certainly not catch anyone by surprise. Yet, this film is still highly entertaining.
What starts out as your typical kid's adventure becomes a pretty cool monster movie, not too bloody or violent to take your little ones, but still a fairly decent and fun ride with touching emotional moments involving divorce issues.
Freddie Highmore is the star of this Nickelodeon produced picture. Highmore also starred in "Arthur and the Invisibles" (2006), which many of you with kids may be familiar. This time, Highmore's new character is looking for a man named Arthur Spiderwick and in between has to fight invisible goblins.
Highmore, the adorable, now 16-year-old, British actor from "Finding Neverland" (2004) and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (2005), does double duty as he plays twins Jared and Simon Grace. Highmore plays both rather distinctly, twin brothers and sons of a recently divorced mother, Helen Grace, played by Emmy-winning actress Mary-Louise Parker.
Following her separation, Helen takes the twin boys and their sister and retreats from the city to the abandoned country home of their 86-year-old Aunt Lucinda who lost her father Arthur Spiderwick 80 years ago. Oscar-nominated actor David Straithairn plays a nervous Arthur Spiderwick.
The Grace's absentee father, played by former Brat Pack, Andrew McCarthy, with whom the Grace twins occasionally converse over the phone, calls the abandoned home the Addams Family mansion, a pretty apt description, but only not as inviting.
Jaredm, who takes his father's absence harder than his siblings, almost immediately gets swept up in the mythology of the house. He starts hearing noises and seeing things in the dark. He doesn't know what to make of it until he discovers the hidden book written 80 years ago by Arthur Spiderwick.
An 80-year mystery involves this tome that is basically a field guide to the entire fantastical world, describing in detail who, what, why, and how every magical or mystical being and phenomena is and does. If you've seen the TV series "Charmed," Spiderwick's tome is tantamount to the Book of Shadows, a magical encyclopedia about all magical living things.
The film does have the same appeal as an episode of "Charmed," that of siblings fighting magical beings. It treats fairy tale ideas as real identities, and even deals with them in a modern way as to make it believable, or comfortable for its viewers.
It incorporates elements of horror and comedy. Seth Rogen ("Knocked Up" and "Superbad") voices an easily excited as well as easily distracted hobgoblin that likes eating birds named Hogsqueal. He's provides needed comic relief.
The film moves quickly and flows between legend explanations and action scenes very smoothly, much like the honey that appeases mini-Hulk goblin called Thimbletack, voiced by Martin Short, the film's other source of comic relief.
But, despite the integration of an Over-the-Rainbow score and sepia-tone flashbacks, the film feels like a version of "Jumanji" (1995) than that of Dorothy skipping down the yellow brick road, only to awake from a dream.
Nick Nolte plays the goblin king, much scarier than David Bowie's goblin king in "Labyrinth" (1986). Nolte's Mulgarath can shapeshift but never loses his overwhelming, intimidating and scolding menace.
Here, there seems to be a greater sense of danger, a greater sense of fear, as you deal with children who have lost their fathers and who have become trapped in their house, running for their lives. But it's an exciting brief ride.
Five Stars out of Five
Rated PG for some thematic material
Running Time: 1 hr. and 37 mins.