Gothic fantasy adventure tale set on an isolated Victorian estate once occupied by an eccentric student of the paranormal (David Strathairn) and now home to his great-niece (Mary-Louise Parker), her twin sons (both played by Freddie Highmore) and daughter (Sarah Bolger), all of whom find themselves caught up in a struggle among normally invisible creatures, some good, others evil, for possession of a book detailing their ancestor's discoveries. Director Mark Waters' lavish film, showcasing first-class special effects, some fine performances, unobjectionable dialogue and estimable lessons about family life, is appropriate for all but the youngest viewers, who might find it too intense. Some fantasy violence, a couple of mild oaths. A-I -- general patronage. (PG) 2008
The Spiderwick Chronicles
In an unseen world of goblins, sprites and ogres, an ordinary family gets caught up in the epic struggle between good and evil, discovering the need for teamwork along the way.
Such is the worthy theme of "The Spiderwick Chronicles" (Paramount/Nickelodeon).
Deserted by her husband, suddenly single mom Helen Grace (Mary-Louise Parker) moves her twin sons, Simon and Jared (both played and skillfully differentiated by Freddie Highmore), and her fencing-enthusiast daughter, Mallory (Sarah Bolger), from New York City to an isolated Victorian estate. The manse, we soon learn, has quite a history.
Once occupied by Helen's great-uncle, eccentric student of the paranormal Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn), who mysteriously disappeared 80 years ago, the house was for many decades home to his daughter, Lucinda (a delightfully fey Joan Plowright).
Aunt Lucinda, however, has recently been confined to a sanitarium because of her excessively rich fantasy life, thus creating the opportunity for her cash-strapped niece.
While assertive Mallory and studious Simon attempt to make the best of their new surroundings, Jared, who misguidedly blames his mother for his parents' breakup, flaunts his resentment. So when strange pranks begin to be played on the other members of the family, Jared, always the troublemaker, inevitably gets the blame.
Anxious to get himself off the hook, Jared stumbles upon and races through Arthur's antique notebook. What he learns enables him to converse with a tiny "house brownie" named Thimbletack (voice of Martin Short).
Thimbletack informs Jared that the house is, in fact, besieged by an army of vile creatures led by a powerful ogre named Mulgarath (Nick Nolte), who wants Arthur's volume, as it would enable him to wipe out all the good creatures which have long resisted his power. These include Thimbletack himself and Hogsqueal (voice of Seth Rogen), a well-intentioned but easily distracted hobgoblin.
Can Jared and his siblings -- whom he quickly initiates into these mysteries -- come together to help defeat Mulgarath?
Director Mark Waters' lavish film showcases first-class special effects, some fine performances, dialogue virtually free of objectionable terms and estimable lessons about family life. This gothic fantasy adventure can be warmly recommended to all but the youngest viewers, who might find it too intense.
The film contains some fantasy violence and a couple of mild oaths. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
These movies have been evaluated for artistic merit and moral suitability by the media reviewing division of Catholic News Service. The reviews include the CNS rating, the Motion Picture Association of America rating, and a brief synopsis of the movie.
The classifications are as follows:
A-I -- general patronage;
A-II -- adults and adolescents;
A-III -- adults;
L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. L replaces the previous classification, A-IV.
O -- morally offensive.
Note: Some movies previously were designated A-IV. Older films with this classification should be regarded as classified L.