Complete A-Z list

Spiderwick Chronicles, The


Stars: Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn, Nick Nolte, Joan Plowright. Voices: Martin Short, Seth Rogen

Director: Mark Waters

Wow! Ideal for children from six to 16 (and 66), this fairy fantasy scores in every department. Director Waters never puts a foot wrong in presenting a world of unseen creatures that surrounds the vast old house inherited by Helen (Parker, welcome back) from her great-great-uncle, Arthur Spiderwick (Strathairn) as, deserted by her husband, she moves in with 16-year-old daughter Mallory (Bolger) and 14-year-old twins, bookish Simon and sullen, resentful Jared (both Highmore).

The house itself is wonderfully well realised, with mysterious rooms reached via a dumb waiter, in one of which Jared finds a sealed, leather-bound book, his great-great-uncle's 'Field Guide' to the creatures invisible to mere mortals.

He also encounters Thimbletack (Short), a household brownie who grows twice his size into a green goblin when stressed. 'Wow,' says Jared. 'And they say I need anger management.'

The book, when opened and read, details all the world's fairies and less friendly creatures which, initially at least, only become visible through a 'seeing stone' (or when they want you to see them), one of the film's slightly dodgy devices for enabling the kids to view the creatures around them. Unfortunately, the book also comes to the attention of the huge ogre Mulgarath (Nolte), who would frighten even Shrek and marshals an army of creepy-crawlies to besiege the house, held back only by a circle of mushrooms around the property, which provides an invisible wall (though not to humans).

The story has lots of well-choreographed action and moves quickly and with easy grace, its CGI creatures always convincing, its fairies beautifully and delicately portrayed, like something from a Victorian children's book. A perfect evocation of a fairy-tale adventure, the film has practically no faults at all. It even has a blast from the past: former Brat Packer Andrew McCarthy, in for a few seconds as the children's errant father.

David Quinlan

USA 2008. UK Distributor: Paramount. Colour by deluxe.
97 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 14 Mar 2008