Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)

Rated: PG for scary creature action and violence, peril and some thematic elements
Length: 97 minutes
Grade: B+B+CB+=B+
Budget: $92 million
Box Office: $179 million ($71 US, $91 Intl, $17 DVD)

Written by: Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, authors of the very popular children’s book series on which this film is based.
Directed by: Mark Waters, who also made Just Like Heaven, Mean Girls, Freaky Friday, Head Over Heels, and House of Yes.
Starring: Freddy Highmore (as twins), Sara Bolger, Mary-Louise Parker, Joan Plowright, David Strathairn, and the voices of Seth Rogen, Nick Nolte, and Martin Short.

When they move into the abandoned estate of their crazy great-uncle, Arthur Spiderwick, three teenage children discover their house is the center of attention for hordes of invisible creatures who want to extract a book containing all the secrets of their world in it. Naturally, the kids must protect the book and save the world from the evil creatures no one else can see.

Entertainment Value: B+
Not being familiar with the books, I can only judge this movie on its own terms, and it turns out to be quite entertaining. I’m generally fond of movies that involve fantasy creatures and wild imagination, and this is certainly one of those. As usual, the invention of a fascinating world with unusual creatures and rules is what makes this so captivating.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A+, Violence C+, Language A, Illegality A
Other than violence, this is squeaky, and could easily be G. Oddly, one character goes to say, “Oh, sh…” but can’t finish the syllable, which seemed wildly out of place given the sanitary rest of the movie. The real concern is violence, and there’s a fair bit of it, much of which might really frighten younger children who are already prone to fears of monsters and such. Aside from all the creature violence (goblins and trolls, etc.) there is a scene where a boy stabs his father in the chest with a knife because it’s really a bad guy in disguise, but this is still a fairly startling scene and not healthy for young kids to see. I’d call it PG-8, although we did let Spencer see it, with our supervision of course. Those who object to sorcery and witchcraft might be bothered by some of the elements of this movie, centering on a book of knowledge which has some spells in it.

Significant Content: C
In a case which is unusual for kids movies, both adults and children in this movie are portrayed as knowing the secrets that usually only kids are privy to. The themes here are about technology and magic and the power of knowledge, especially when it falls into the wrong hands. The world is full of invisible creatures you can only see if you have been granted access to this sight. Anger can transform you from a relatively docile creature into a very aggressive and dangerous one.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
The best way I can describe this is as a Dark Crystal made with modern effects. It has a certain disturbingly realistic and gross feel to it, and the movie doesn’t shy away from making creature battle seem quite scary. You definitely believe the possibility of this imaginary world.

Discussion Questions:
~Compare Thumbletack to the Incredible Hulk. What makes him transform? What makes him calm down? When you find yourself getting overwhelmed with negative emotion, what can you do to calm yourself down?
~Why did Arthur make the book in the first place? If the book was so dangerous, why did he resist destroying it? Can you imagine people having developed really awful technologies (such as the nuclear bomb) still finding that they can’t eliminate the knowledge because they’ve experienced some exhilaration and pride in discovering it? What does the book represent to you?
~Do you believe in the existence of imaginary creatures like this? Do you think young children should hear stories and watch movies about monsters? What do monsters in these stories show us about evil? Compare the creatures of this movie with angels and demons as the Bible describes them.
~When Jared learns the contents of the book, he is said to have become a living version of the book. How does this relate to the Bible and our knowledge of it?
~Why doesn’t the mother believe her children? Have you ever felt that adults didn’t listen to you?
~How might this movie have been different if the father had been around? Would the boys have felt more comfortable going to their father? What does this say about the father’s ability to protect his family and the problems of divorce?
~Is the ability to see the creatures in this movie a metaphor for anything?

Overall Grade: B+
An entertaining, engaging movie for older grade school and up children.

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