Reviewer's grade: B-
Remarkable child actor du jour Freddie Highmore ("Finding Neverland," "August Rush") leads a solid cast in this fanciful but never cloying family fantasy adventure about three children in an old house who discover a secret book that reveals the wonders "? and frights "? of the unseen creatures around us.
Wicked ogre Mulgarath (Nick Nolte) wants the book because it will allow him to kill all the humans and conquer his world, but as long as the children keep the book within the protective circle in which the house sits, he's stuck. But Mom has to go to work outside the circle, and never was there a better reason to phone in sick. With a cast that includes Mary-Louise Parker, Joan Plowright, David Strathairn, Martin Short, Seth Rogen and Sarah Bolger, and a dream behind-the-camera team, this one should be a winner. And is.
Paramount would like for this to be the start of a new fantasy franchise, but this first entry is a complete story with no loose threads. There is some scary stuff, so prepare your children. PG