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Magical Roku Series Doesn’t Soar

Magical Roku Series Doesn’t Soar

There’s a lot of magic in “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” Based on the acclaimed children’s fantasy books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, and adapted for television by Aron Eli Coleite, the TV show is full of mystical creatures like ogres, fetches and dragons. However, this story is no fairytale. Instead, the series, which was axed by Disney+ before finding a home at Roku, is a tale about family and acceptance. Unfortunately, though the show is supposed to be adventurous, it lacks the whimsy needed to elevate the narrative for a new generation of young adults.

“The Spiderwick Chronicles” begins with a journey halfway across the country. Following their parents’ divorce, the Grace siblings, Jared (Lyon Daniels), his twin brother Simon (Noah Cottrell) and their older sister Mallory (Mychala Lee), leave Brooklyn with their mother, Helen (Joy Bryant), for a fresh start in Henson, Michigan. Jared, who struggles with his mental health and behavior, is set to receive care from renowned therapist Dr. Dorian Brauer (Christian Slater). But Simon and Mallory, who have grown weary of Jared’s constant antics, are less optimistic about the move, especially after seeing the condition of their great-grandfather’s dilapidated estate.

Things immediately begin to go awry when the Graces arrive at their ancestral home. After Simon’s pet mice go missing, Jared discovers a boggart named Thimbletack (Jack Dylan Grazer) is wreaking havoc on the house. To his dismay, neither his mother nor siblings can see the naughty creature. Things are pretty much the same outside of the home. The town of Henson isn’t as picturesque as it initially appears to be. Jared learns a murderous ogre, Mulgarath, is the source of all of Henson’s woes, and that the diabolical monster is after his great-grandfather Arthur Spiderwick’s (Albert Jones) magical field guide, which has been divided up and hidden around the town. Sadly, because of his past problems, the only person who believes Jared’s stories about Mulgarath and the field guide is his great-aunt Lucinda (Charlayne Woodard). She has spent the better part of four decades locked away at Meskawki, a mental health hospital in town.

“The Spiderwick Chronicles” highlights themes teens encounter, including dark thoughts, ostracization and the desire for perfection. Yet the series contributes nothing unique to the increasingly crowded YA genre. Moreover, this show isn’t the first time the “Spiderwick” books have been adapted for the screen. The 2008 film starring Freddie Highmore earned praise from audiences and critics alike for its performances and imagination. Though the show stretches across eight 45-minute episodes, diving into countless details and fantastical beings, its pacing often stalls, leading to a humdrum tone instead of a display frenzied with action.

Additionally, despite aging the characters up for this adaptation, the setting and special effects aren’t creepy or dazzling enough to keep a teen audience engaged. If the twins were nine years old, as they are in the first novel, instead of 15, the series would have been able to expand as they begin to encounter more teen-centered themes. Instead, the show races to encompass all of those issues while trying to balance the show’s paranormal elements.

Though “The Spiderwick Chronicles” doesn’t offer robust thrills and scares, its focus on Jared’s struggles and how they affect his sense of self and his family’s understanding of him is effective. Having spotted Thimbletack and gotten hold of the Seeing Stone, enabling him to see faeries and other creatures, Jared is desperate for someone to believe him. Since the audience sees and experiences what he does, his family’s dismissiveness of him is poignant. “The Spiderwick Chronicles” clearly illustrates the toll of being constantly compared to his intelligent and agreeable brother and how it has affected him over the years. Simon has consistently advocated for Jared, but the easy-going twin’s new friendship with Calliope (Alyvia Alyn Lind), Dr. Brauer’s daughter, causes a split between the brothers. Meanwhile, Mallory has tried to stand out amid Jared’s chaos by leaning into perfectionism and a love of fencing. Still, this desire for excellence has become increasingly unsustainable, especially in a new environment.

The Graces’ familial relations remain intriguing throughout the season, even amid mentions of Richard (Rhys Coiro), the kids’ absentee father. Still, the fantastical elements at the core of “The Spiderwick Chronicles” are unimaginative and lackluster. While some of the storylines are interesting, like the town’s residents’ ploy to shut down the Meskawki mental hospital, the adults’ frustrating lack of foresight and the bogged-down dialogue make much of the series a chore. Tighter pacing and more streamlined plot points would have given “The Spiderwick Chronicles” the allure and fanfare needed to make this action-adventure the dazzling escapade it should be.

The eight episodes of “The Spiderwick Chronicles” premiere on April 19 on Roku.

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