The Spiderwick Chronicles: Nick Nolte Will Terrify Your Kids

  Freud lives and prospers in The Spiderwick Chronicles, an exceptionally oedipal fantasy adventure based on the popular children's novels by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, and stuffed with defaulting dads ripe for slaying; a freshly single mom (Mary-Louise Parker); and one majorly split personality, also known as her twin sons, intelligently played by British child actor Freddie Highmore. Steamed over their family's abrupt move, minus dad, to a ramshackle New England house that once belonged to mom's great-uncle (David Strathairn), the boys soon find themselves in a fearsomely funny netherworld, where they meet a pig-faced hobgoblin voiced by Seth Rogen and a monster played by Mr. Id himself, Nick Nolte. The movie's richly autumnal look, shot by Caleb Deschanel with production design by E.T.'s James Bissell, is by swift turns cozily naturalistic and terrifyingly baroque, and director Mark Waters (Freaky Friday, Mean Girls) sustains the balance between real and surreal with mischievous brio. But CGI is a seductive mistress, and it's a pity that toward the end Spiderwick bogs down in too many effects and too much action, before fizzling into tearful reconciliation on all fronts.

 
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