A bunch of kids from a broken home have a fantasy adventure?  They find a book that is the cause of over 80 years of strife in the magical
world?  They must defeat an evil ogre and his evil army?

Even though the setup could be interchangeable with any number of fantasy films, “The Spiderwick Chronicles” continually surprises.

With an increasingly involving story and fantastic visuals, it sets itself above the pack and stands tall alongside some of the best in the
genre.  For my money this film is light years ahead of that woeful “Golden Compass” movie.

Perhaps most surprising is how good the film gets very quickly after a shaky opening, complete with kids talking like miniature adults (a
personal pet peeve) and unconvincing acting from Freddie Highmore.

Highmore himself plays twin brothers Jared and Simon Grace.

But as the film transitions into the fantasy elements, which to its credit is very early on, the film roars to life with a great sense of humor and
absolutely perfect pacing.

Editor Michael Kahn is a master.  He and director Mark Waters keep this film chugging along without ever losing the characters amidst the
action and visuals.

And what visuals this film has!  The art direction is absolutely first rate and is supported by phenomenal visual effects.  The CG creatures,
and there are a lot of them, blend seamlessly into the live action elements.

The voice work for these creatures is also very good.  Nick Nolte scares me in real life.  So it’s no surprise that he is a perfect fit for the
villainous Mulgarath.

Composer James Horner’s score also bolsters the film and proves to be his best fully original work in a long time.

It’s just too bad that the cast isn’t a little bit better.  The kids are decent enough, however, and even though they are occasionally
unconvincing, especially in regards to the real life drama, they are good enough that we do care for them.

Overall, these dramatic scenes could have been better integrated into the film.  One can’t help but think of how well it was done in last
year's “Bridge to Terabithia” by comparison.

On the other hand, “Spiderwick” handles the fantasy better than that film, so I wouldn’t say either are light years ahead of the other.

When it comes down to it, “The Spiderwick Chronicles” is just a lot of fun.  It has a lot of imagination, a great sense of adventure, and some
beautiful visuals.  And despite some gripes with the actors, we do end up liking these characters quite a bit.  And for this, “The Spiderwick
Chronicles” is easily recommended.

* * *
(out of four)
Directed by: Mark Waters

Written by: Karey Kirkpatrick and David Berenbaum and
John Sayles

Starring: Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick
Nolte, Sarah Bolger, Andrew McCarthy, Joan Plowright

Cinematography by: Caleb Deschanel

Music by: James Horner

Released: February 14, 2008; 96 Minutes