Spiderwick Chronicles posterI’ve been at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia over the weekend, and had a chance a few hours ago to see a preview showing of the upcoming movie version of The Spiderwick Chronicles. There aren’t any really big stars in the movie; Freddie Highmore plays the twin brothers Jared and Simon Grace and Sarah Bolger their teen sister Mallory, and David Straithairn plays Arthur Spiderwick.

If you know about the five primary books in the Spiderwick series by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (I must confess that I’ve never read them all the way through, but I’ve read bits and chunks of a couple of them), you know that Jared, Simon, and Mallory are brought to the old Spiderwick estate by their mother when their parents split up. Jared discovers a book written by Arthur Spiderwick, one of his ancestors, that tells lots of amazing facts about fairies, brownies, and mythical creatures that live in the forest surrounding the house. These creatures include a tribe of goblins, led by the evil ogre Mulgarath.

As soon as Jared reads the book, Mulgarath and the goblins appear to become instantly aware of it, and begin to chase the Grace kids. The computer-generated goblins and fairies are kind of cheesy but fun – have you seen that big blobby Mucus Man (or whatever his name is) in those Mucinex TV commercials? They’re a lot like that. The movie races away at a breakneck speed, barely taking a breath, and when it does pause, it does so that Jared can shout and stew melodramatically over his beloved father leaving the family.

In the end, it’s no masterpiece, but it is enjoyable, with some great slapstick (Seth Rogen and Martin Short do a great job as the voices of Hogsqueal the hobgoblin and Thimbletack the brownie). While I cringed at the family melodrama, I talked to several of the other librarians after the showing, and they all said that the movie as a whole was a lot of fun. One told me that it was good to see the whole sequence of books – that she felt went on, and on, without much plot development – all put together into one movie with a real resolution. It opens in theaters all over on February 15.