For me, the nicest theatrical surprise of the year thus far belongs to "The Spiderwick Chronicles." For someone as adverse to fantasy films as I "? even more so with those aimed at family audiences "? this pleasant, unassuming charmer strikes just the right note from its opening frames and stays the course. Keep your "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings"; I'll re-visit "Spiderwick."
Based on a series of children's books, the movie forces three bickering siblings (Sarah Bolger of "In America" and, portraying twins, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" star Freddie Highmore) to move into a dusty old family home when their parents split up. A mischievous tiny creature lives within the walls, but he's nothing compared to the invisible kid-eating goblins that roam outside. Only a magic book "? a field guide to these monsters, written by their ancestor, Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn) "? keeps the beasts at bay.
With strong performances from the kids, even stronger storytelling and a sly sense of humor, "Spiderwick" most resembles the underrated and misunderstood "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," and both come under the Nickelodeon Movies banner.
I'd go as far to say adults will like this as much as kids, the youngest of whom may be scared by several in-peril situations. Paramount's double-disc DVD enhances one's appreciation for the film, boasting rich features like clickable pages from Arthur's guide and amusing segments in which director Mark Waters ("Mean Girls") floats the fiction as reality. Hey, I'll bite.