The Spiderwick Chronicles
After their parent’s divorce, the Grace children, twins Jared and Simon, and sister Mallory, move into their Great Aunt Lucinda’s old house with their mom. Simon and Mallory are trying to make the most of this unwanted move, but Jared is determined to be miserable and make everyone else miserable as well.
Things get off to a bad start as soon as the family arrives, and Jared is giving everyone the silent treatment, but then things start happening. Strange noises, disappearing items, spooky writing that suddenly appears, and weird pantry items. Jared’s curiosity over what’s really happening in the creepy family house leads him to start exploring things, causing family tension to rise as everyone else thinks it’s all in his head and Jared’s just acting out, something he does often. But soon the other Grace children get drug into the household mysteries and what they discover is that their Aunt’s property is inhabited by magical creatures, good and bad.
While this might been seen as a cool discovery, the Grace children soon learn that there is an invisible force-field around their house that protects them from the bad guys, and when the next full moon comes, the bad guys will be equipped to remove it and cross over into the Grace’s only safe haven. So, Jared, Simon and Mallory are forced to rise above their circumstances to protect Great-Great-Uncle Arthur’s most important secrets—secrets that could impact the wellbeing of all humanity.
The Grace children, despite their rough beginning and hostile attitudes towards one another, do realize how much they care about one another, and, when faced with the idea of loosing each other, band together to defend each other. Sibling rivalry gives way and each child learns that they all have unique talents and should rely upon the strengths of each other. Beyond that, their quest is a noble one, with clear battle lines between good and evil, and the good guys risking their lives for the sake of a cause larger than themselves.
The Spiderwick Chronicles deals with the reality of divorce and unfaithfulness, most specifically how it affects the family. Each child deals with this differently, but all of their responses tell the viewing audience that a fractured family is a bad thing, and it has negative impacts on kids.
The existence of magical creatures is never explained in the movie, which didn’t satisfy my writer’s brain, but that helped keep the magic in the movie at a low key, I suppose. The Grace children never use magic themselves, but rather everyday items to defend themselves and survive the fantasy creatures, so I will have to say that that was clever on the part of the creators.
In a heated argument, Jared tells his mom that he hates her and doesn’t want to live with her. As the film progresses, we see our main character grow to regret those words and, in the end, he apologizes for saying them. His mom also apologies, as she has not been forthcoming with Jared (thought she has with the other kids) as to what really happened between she and his Dad, and why he isn’t coming back.
The peril to the Grace family feels quite real in many places, and we see multiple siblings sustain injuries. The goblins attack the humans multiple times, and they grab their victims by the legs and maul them. Simon, in particular, endures many frightening experiences, one of which is being imprisoned in a cage by the evil Mulgarath, being prepared for cooking.
To defend themselves against the goblins, the Grace children create flesh eating weapons made from household ingredients (tomato juice, salt, and so forth) which we then see used on multiple villains as their flesh bubbles and mutilates before becoming a puddle of green gunk.
Steel is also a great defense against the creatures, which causes fencing champion Mallory to slash and stab many of our fantastical villains. In one such incident, Mallory stabs a goblin in the eye. In the final face off Mulgarath begins demolishing the Grace house and tries to kill the different family members. Most disturbing, however, is a scene where the audience witness’ Jared stab someone in the stomach (he is a bad guy, but only Jared knows that, the audience is left shocked for a brief moment).
Perhaps the overarching negative element, though, is the sibling issues and Jared’s anger issues that pervade the first part of the movie. Jared and Mallory bicker constantly in the beginning, and the twins end up in a tussle during and argument. Jared also has a history of physical violence when he’s mad, which leads him to hit inanimate objects (he wails on the car bumper in the beginning of the movie, and his mom attributes a household accident to Jared’s anger issues).
God’s name is misused about a half-dozen times, primarily by the children as they are the main characters that dominate the screen. The h word is used once.
The themes in this story are much deeper under the surface, but most families will be unwilling to move past the surface of this film. While the movie does have a lot of violence, and some of it is a bit tense, it’s still fairly kid friendly on that score. The thing most people are going to have an issue with is the broken family. There is a lot to look at here, especially in creature featured symbolisms. You’ve got Mulgarath as a symbol of the dad who abandoned them. Thimbletack, the brownie who turns into a boggart when he’s angry, paralleling Jared’s struggle to control his rage and resentment. A magic circle of protection afforded by a ring of mushrooms surrounding the house seems to more than just hint at the idea that safety lies within the confines of one’s family. So when Dad breaks that circle of safety by leaving Mom for greener pastures, as it were, he becomes—for all intents and purposes—Mulgarath. The list could go on, but most people aren’t studiers like my family, so they may not want to view it.
So, if you are unwilling to take the time to discuss/ think on the themes and issues dealt with in this movie, then you will want to stay away from it. Because, left as is, it’s not the best kid’s movie. That said, if you are a critical thinker when it comes to movies, and if you enjoy discussing the world views and issues dealt with in a film, then you will enjoy this movie. Despite the fact that the conflict was oversimplified, the movie was fun and presented a challenge mentally for me to dissect.
Also, if you do not want your children exposed to “troubled teens”, then this movie isn’t for you. While Jared is a good kid, he does have his struggles, not unlike most children in today’s society. What Jared needs is someone to look past the exterior and look at what the root problem is and try to help him fix the disease, not expect him to mask his symptoms of a troubled soul. This is often what we expect in our real lives, and it just isn’t how things work. In addition, it’s insensitive for us to expect kid to pretend like they’re all right. So, for what it’s worth, I think it’s a great film to help you digest with your kids the realities of divorce, and Jared will challenge you to look past the outer shell and see what’s really happening inside that boy, because he’s willing to risk an awful lot to protect his family, he just needs help learning to deal with his tumultuous feelings.