‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’ 2024 Review: Way Too Much Yapping For A Show About Fairies, Goblins, & Ogres


After the success of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings films, the entire 2000–2010 decade was filled with fantasy films of varying qualities. We had The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing, Howl’s Moving Castle, Paheli, the Narnia films, the Twilight movies, and the topic of today’s discussion, The Spiderwick Chronicles. The movie had a stacked cast. I mean, they got Seth Rogen to voice Hogsqueal, Martin Short as Thimbletack, Ron Perlman played Redcap, and bloody Nick Nolte as Mulgarath. And, in my honest opinion, its visual effects and CGI hold up to this day. It didn’t necessarily swing for the fences, but it managed to use every second of its 95-minute running time pretty efficiently. Now, the rise of the fantasy genre on the small screen, which was probably ignited by Game of Thrones and boosted by Stranger Things, has led to another adaptation of The Spiderwick Chronicles. Is it any good? Let’s find out.

Based on fantasy novel series, Aron Eli Coleite’s The Spiderwick Chronicles tells the story of the Grace family, which is made of Helen, Jared, Simon, and Mallory. Helen has recently divorced Richard because of his erratic behavior, which has obviously impacted the kids on a psychological level, thereby causing them to act out. Due to Jared’s behavior, the family has moved to a town called Hansen (I think that’s the name) because that’s where their great-aunt Lucinda used to live. While Lucinda is in a psychiatric hospital, the Graces move into her moldy, decrepit-looking house to make a fresh start. Since the Spiderwick mansion has a field guide regarding everything that’s magical in nature, a vicious ogre named Mulgarath intends to access it through the Grace family. So, he kills Dr. Dorian Brauer and takes his place, thereby becoming Jared’s therapist and Lucinda’s caretaker. In addition to that, he employs Calliope to destabilize the siblings so that he faces no resistance on his journey of revenge.

To be clear, I haven’t read the books. I have only watched the movie. And, according to the movie, The Spiderwick Chronicles is a good-vs-evil story where a family that was coming apart at the seams becomes stronger than they were ever before after fighting supernatural beasts. The Roku Channel show keeps that aspect of the story intact but then adds environmentalism and racism to it. Both of these topics are incredibly relevant, and evolving Mulgarath from a generic monster to a pro-environment, pro-indigenous people, avenging angel of sorts, is a good thing. So, instead of not questioning his motivations at all, you can think about whether his reasoning is right or not and if his methods are justifiable. Additionally, the show critiques therapy. Since that practice is so expensive, I didn’t really mind it. Other than that, the whole show is very poorly written. Every scene, every line of dialogue, every plot beat, the character work, the twists—it’s all atrocious. I have said this before, and I’ll say it again: every single story in existence doesn’t need to be a show (or a miniseries).

I am fully aware of the streaming pandemic and how it has caused producers to think that people have become fans of serialized storytelling and that every script and every adaptation of a book has to be turned into a show. It doesn’t matter if there’s enough meat in the source material to produce eight or more episodes. The executives believe that 90-minute movies are a thing of the past; stream-able shows are the future. Ironically enough, that’s a delusional way of looking at things. As mentioned before, the 2008 film perfectly captured the whimsy and wonder of a story about fairies, goblins, trolls, and ogres. It had a limited budget, but that was not only used to craft all the creatures, but the VFX and CGI artists also convinced me that Freddie Highmore had a twin in real life. The Spiderwick Chronicles, the Roku Channel show, has none of that. Everyone just talks and talks, and as soon as it has to show something magical, the scene immediately cuts away to a reaction shot because they clearly don’t have the budget for CGI-heavy scenes in every episode. So, if you’re a fan of a lot of yapping and expository dialogue, then this is the perfect show for you. If you want something fantastical and engaging, look away.

When it comes to the cast, it’s nice to see people of color in the fantasy genre. Lyon Daniels, Joy Bryant, Noah Cottrell, and Mychala Lee are incredibly talented actors, and even though the writing doesn’t really support them, you can see them making the most of the scenes they are in. As a huge fan of Momona Tamada’s work in Oni: Thunder God’s Tale, it was nice to see her in the role of Emiko. The supporting cast, which features Alyvia Alyn Lind, Hunter Dillon, Mellany Barros, Charlayne Woodard, and Aria Mia Loberti, is decent. At the cost of sounding repetitive, they are capable of carrying a scene. However, the writing and the direction make them struggle a lot. Patty Guggenheim doesn’t get the screen time she deserves, but much like her appearance in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, she is brilliant. Jed Rees and Terry Chen’s cameos are fine. Jack Dylan Grazer is bad in the role of Thimbletack. I don’t know what happened here. He is a very gifted performer, but he sounds bored in the show. Christian Slater is great, as always. He clearly had a lot of fun chewing through every scene he is in.

To be honest, I didn’t have a good time watching The Spiderwick Chronicles. As someone who hasn’t read the books, I was under the impression that this was going to be a faithful adaptation or something like that. I don’t know if it’s a faithful adaptation or not, but it’s certainly a boring one. It’s clearly a show made for kids and teenagers, but do kids nowadays enjoy dull conversations in their fantasy movies and series? Do directors and writers think that shows aimed at kids shouldn’t have any kind of risk factor or fun grotesqueness? What is going on? When I watched the film, I was grossed out and entertained by the scene (from the Spiderwick film) where tomato cans were exploded to kill the goblins. That scene got a cheer out of me when I rewatched it as an adult. This Roku show didn’t have anything as inventive, gnarly, funky, or creative as that. It’s a waste of a good premise. It’s a waste of a talented cast of actors. And it was a waste of my time. Please tune into it at your own discretion.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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