I just saw the Spiderwick Chronicles and I have to say, I thought it was pretty awesome. It's been a damn long time since I saw a live action children's movie I liked this much.
Yes, the film is to some extent formulaic. I could predict the emotional movement of the film, and Spiderwick shares similarities with plenty of other childrens films/stories. But it was still a lot of fun.
The magical characters are fun and have great personality. It was very entertaining to watch them interact with the human characters. The design of the magical creatures was also very well done. The goblins etc were a little different than the stereotypical designs I'm used to seeing, and I think that was a great move. It was refreshing to see something a little different, but in and of themselves the designs were very cool and imaginative. This applies to both the goblins and the fairies. One scene involved fairies that looked like dandelions which was a really beautiful contrast to the ugly frog-like goblins. Really stunning.
In true children's story fashion, the magical story also had a human/personal one running parallel to it. I thought this element was also very well done. It brought up issues about divorce and also child behavior problems without being cheesy.
All this points to a film that doesn't talk down to children. This includes some scenes that were a bit scary, and even a bit of violence. It was a real pleasure to see a children's film that didn't feel dumbed down, as this is a problem I see with almost all the children's TV I see at the moment. In my opinion, we don't need to talk down to children. If we keep producing stories that are dumb we're only going to breed less intelligent future generations, or at the very least teach kids that ignorance and stupidity is something to be accepted and revered.
If I hadn't know it was based on a book series I would have thought the story was custom made for film. In my opinion, Spiderwick suffered none of the adaptation pitfalls apparent in the Harry Potter films and the The Golden Compass (which also don't talk down to children, but have a few other problems trying to squash so much information into a feature length film). The narrative was presented quickly & directly but without feeling rushed. I felt satisfied with the amount of information and character development I got from the film. It didn't feel underdone, or overdone.
The Spiderwick Chronicles might not be totally groundbreaking, but it was certainly very enjoyable - both visually and narratively