Good twin. Bad twin (well, angry and a little misunderstood).
We’ve seen it before, but not with Freddie Highmore, who turns 16 today but is mature and talented beyond his years.
Highmore does double duty in “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” as two of the three Grace children forced out of their comfort zone in oh so many ways.
Their mother (Mary-Louise Parker) has split from their father and moved daughter Mallory (Sarah Bolger) and twins Jared and Simon (Highmore) from New York to the isolated Spiderwick estate. It was once occupied by an eccentric great-great uncle, Arthur Spiderwick, and then his daughter.
Jared is particularly unhappy at this arrangement and is regularly blamed for anything that goes wrong, which is quite a bit once he finds Arthur’s study and his “Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You.” Ignoring the “Do not dare to read this book” warning, Jared starts to soak up its introduction to brownies, goblins, sprites, ogres and other creatures.
Soon, thanks to a “seeing stone” and then sight conveyed by the spittle of a friendly hobgoblin named Hogsqueal (expressive voice of Seth Rogen), he can see the creatures — who kidnap his brother at the behest of a shape-shifting ogre (a creepified Nick Nolte in some scenes).
It’s clear that the Grace siblings must quit sparring and unite to save themselves, their house and reconfigured family and suss out the truth about their not-so-kooky aunt (Joan Plowright) and her father, Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn).
Lacking superpowers, they are forced to use their talents at hand, such as Mallory’s skill as a fencing champion, Jared’s absorption of the field guide and Simon’s quiet support and dogged preparations for a possible attack.
“Spiderwick,” based on the series of books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black and directed by Mark Waters, plants the earthbound children in a world of fantastical beings. Among them: a 9-inch house brownie named Thimbletack (voice of Martin Short) with a taste for honey, along with goblins, hobgoblins, ogres, griffins and beautiful flower sprites and sylphs.
Through no fault of the movie or its special effects experts, I kept thinking of the Mucinex commercial when I saw the computer-generated green goblins, and a fearsome face-off veers awfully close to standard monster-movie fare.
But, the young actors are terrific and the movie immerses us in a nicely photographed universe with its own rules about everything from tomato sauce to sylphs. Its strongest scenes, though, are rooted in the reality of divorce, of an unexpected reunion and a protective circle that’s marked not on the ground with stones but forged in the family.