The Spiderwick Chronicles is like a depressing combination of Chronicles of Narnia without the intriguing story, Lord of the Rings without the awe-inspiring imagination, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory without the good Freddie Highmore performance. It is simple, lame-brained, uninteresting, level-one adventure filmmaking.
Shocking is the fact that the film was directed by Mark Waters, who previously made the brilliant Mean Girls and the serviceable-but-visually-pleasing Just Like Heaven. I have always thought of Waters as a director who knew his terrain and treaded it with confidence and panache. Now I think of him as a guy who got in way over his head.
Spiderwick is based on the (beloved?) children's book series about a magical world not unlike every other magical world we have seen before, or read about before, or both. I guess this time the charm is supposed to be in the lack of imagination in the storytelling, lack of energy in the actors, and lack of competence in the direction and special effects.
Freddie Highmore, once a breakout child star in Finding Neverland, has never been worse than he is here, playing two equally annoying American brothers, neither of whom seem fiery enough for audiences to get passionate about...and neither of whom speak with a very convincing American accent. It seems like Highmore has reached his jaded stage early--this reminds me of a paycheck performance if there ever was one.
Speaking of paychecks, consider this list: David Strathairn, Martin Short, Mary Louise-Parker, Seth Rogen, Andrew McCarthy, Joan Plowright...and Nick Nolte(!)
We are supposed to be progressing and evolving as a species. So, too, is our filmmaking sophistication. On the much stronger backs of movies like Narnia and LOTR, The Spiderwick Chronicles stands out like a sore, embarrassing thumb. It is de-evolution in action...our kids deserve better than that.