The Spiderwick Chronicles TV Review

Christian Slater leads a horror-twinged reimagining of the YA novels that fails to launch a new franchise.

Last Updated on April 25, 2024

The Spiderwick Chronicles

Plot: The Grace family moves from Brooklyn, New York, to their ancestral home in Henson, Michigan, the Spiderwick Estate. Helen makes the move with her 15-year-old fraternal twin boys, Jared and Simon, and her older daughter, Mallory. Shortly after moving to the Spiderwick Estate, Jared discovers a boggart and realizes that magical creatures are real! The only one to believe him is his great-aunt Lucinda, who implores Jared to find the pages of her father’s field guide to magical creatures and protect them from the murderous Ogre, Mulgarath.

Review: Based on the popular young adult novel series of the same name, The Spiderwick Chronicles comes a decade-and-a-half after Paramount Pictures’ big-screen adaptation was a moderate success at the box office and with critics. Taking a cue from other YA films like A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, and other similar early 21st-century franchises, The Spiderwick Chronicles books combines fantasy, humor, and a family-centric story with a Ferngully flair for good measure. Initially set up as a Disney+ original, The Spiderwick Chronicles reboot updates the book narrative for a new generation with a slightly darker tone and improved special effects. With a solid cast of newcomers and Christian Slater chewing the scenery as the villain, this series attempts to supplant a lack of energy or originality with a couple of unique twists. While the effort is sincere, The Spiderwick Chronicles does not rise to the bar necessary for a series to thrive past a single season.

While Freddie Highmore led the 2008 film in a dual role as the Grace twins, this series features Lyon Daniels and Noah Cottrell as twins Jared and Simon Grace. Stepping in for elder sibling Mallory is Mychala Lee, who takes over from Sarah Bolger, while Joy Bryant replaces Mary-Louise Parker as their mother, Helen Grace. The Grace clan, fresh off the divorce of Helen from the unseen Richard Grace, move to their familial estate, Spiderwick, since Lucinda Spiderwick (Charlayne Woodard) remains in a senior care facility. Hoping to make a fresh start, Grace’s move is precipitated by a need for stronger psychiatric care for Jared, who suffers from Oppositional Defiance Disorder. By adding in an increasingly common diagnosis, The Spiderwick Chronicles trades in on Jared being a problem child or a rabble-rouser by giving him a formal disability. This also allows Jared to forge a bond with the other outcasts, including Emiko (Momona Tamada) and Hatcher (Hunter Dillon). Soon after arriving at Spiderwick, Jared and his family discover strange things, including the diminutive creature and troublemaker Thimbletack (voiced by Shazam‘s Jack Dylan Grazer). Almost immediately, the fantasy and reality of this world blend, and there is no looking back. Each episode connects serially to the preceding chapters with deepening mythology that builds this fantastical world and how the Grace and Spiderwick families and the Field Guide created by Arthur Spiderwick and why Mulgarath wants to possess it.

As the eight-episode first season of The Spiderwick Chronicles progresses, it resembles another series about a stately mansion full of supernatural beings and a villainous monster after a trio of siblings. Like Netflix’s Locke & Key, The Spiderwick Chronicles has a blend of mild profanity and mature themes peppered into a coming-of-age story. The aged-up protagonist from middle to high school affords more material for the writers, but it still feels a bit hokey overall. Luckily, there is Christian Slater. Coming off his work on the Disney+ series Willow and his acclaimed turn on Mr. Robot, Slater seems to be having a lot of fun chewing the scenery in the human form of the evil ogre Mulgarath. Played by Nick Nolte in the movie, Slater has fun making Mulgarath more of a direct nemesis for the Grace family, along with the monster posing as human teen Calliope (Chucky‘s Alyvia Alyn Lind). The two share some of the best moments in the series as they prepare to take over the planet and consume humanity, but Alyvia Lind seems to have the more layered role. Slater spends most of his time trying to be menacing and occasionally showing glimpses of his true form.

The Spiderwick Chronicles review

At first, I was hopeful that this series would impress me. I enjoyed the Disney+ series Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the first season of Goosebumps, but The Spiderwick Chronicles begins to struggle at the halfway point of the season. As menacing as Christian Slater can be, Mulgarath’s plan seems overwrought and stretched out for twice as many episodes as it should. Adding characters here to get more screen time, like Bree Kent (Mellany Barros) and fencing instructor Valentina (The Light We Cannot See star Aria Mia Loberti), makes the main narrative take longer to get going than it should. The production values are good and the special effects solid, but the series feels like it is repeating an overly familiar plot formula from one episode to the next. Artificial cliffhangers and misdirects meant to make us mistrust the main characters end up feeling like cliche twists that can be spotted a mile away.

Showrunner Aron Eli Coleite (Heroes, Daybreak, Ultimate X-Men) adapts the novels from writers Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black in a way that honors the integrity of the original books while forging a totally unique plot. The series is set up to be the first of multiple seasons, something I am not confident will come to pass, but it uses the vast majority of the plot from the published novels. That means future seasons could be wholly original tales if they ever happen. The first two episodes are directed by Kat Coiro (She-Hulk: Attorney At Law) and incorporate roles for her husband, Rhys Coiro, and She-Hulk breakout Patty Guggenheim. Still, subsequent entries in the season fail to capitalize on the tone and mood she sets up in the initial entries. So much of this series reminded me of better productions, including Wednesday and the aforementioned Locke & Key, that I wondered why this series even exists. That may sound harsh, but it just became progressively more challenging over the course of the series to understand why this was not a movie instead of a long-form series.

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a difficult series to rate because it has many positives, mostly in the able cast, solid special effects, and a more mature tone compared to the 2008 movie. Unfortunately, the overwrought family drama and slow yet repetitive pacing make for a series that is hard to get into. Because this is YA material, I may not be the target audience for this type of story. Still, the talent behind the scenes has been capable of generating narratives that work for kids and adults alike. The Spiderwick Chronicles has a distinct enough mythology that it could garner enough of a fan base to garner a season two. Still, I was underwhelmed by how mediocre the overall first season ended, leaving me without any desire to see where this story could go next.

The Spiderwick Chronicles premieres on April 19th on The Roku Channel.

Source: JoBlo.com

About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.