A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Spiderwick Chronicles
New/Old Style of Fiction Brought to the Big Screen
Great children’s books have a centered aspect to their writing which causes a deeply delightful reaction to the story. By centered I mean a strong character or intriguing story backdrop. We know the usual things that make a good story - like characters you can empathize with, or action that’s thrilling. But you also want stories that are just a little odd. You want ones that older children can read and younger ones can listen to without having to be nagged into it.
Roald Dahl is a master at this genre. His stories like Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr. Fox are in that genre. His writing is organically seated in sentiment, yet keeps it’s bizarreness and its spontaneity.
Here we have a current crop of stories written around the new millennium by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) along with Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi . Their stories are almost like a new crop of fairy tale. The characters are in the ‘super reality’. They have real life action but with a surreal or ‘super-real’ component that makes you wish you could visit and experience the magic for yourself.
Yes there have always been fantasy stores like Mary Poppins and The House at Pooh Corner. But the difference with these modern books is that they're stylistically more snappy.
How did these two children’s books with mysterious goings on and fantastical scenarios end up being practically joined at the hip in their delivery? Both of these stories are a successful translation to film. Let’s look at The Spiderwick Chronicles first.
The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Movie
The two co-writers for the screenplay of the Spiderwick Chronicles combined details from the entire series into one movie. A family moves into their relatives old house. They're comprised of a a mother, a teenage girl and nine-year-old twin boys. The story includes family issues (the father has abandoned the family), sibling rivalry and then the mysterious chronicle book that brings creatures like brownies and ogres into their lives.
One boy in particular, Jared, is determined to keep the book from being destroyed and leads his family into a struggle against an ogre named Mulgarath. Eventually they get back to their great Aunt Lucinda, who tells them that it was her father that wrote the Chronicle and then mysteriously disappeared.
A great family movie adventure. My family loved this.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
When I think of movies to bring for family or friends gatherings, I think of Jim Carrey (as well as Will Ferrell). Humour brings people together on movie night. And especially during the holidays, it can be a welcome distraction from Uncle Ned complaining about his rheumatism.
That isn't to say it can't be a little dark humour. Jim Carrey is expert at making evil funny. He balances overacting and exaggerated movements just enough to make it entertaining without detracting from the storyline. The movie A Series of Unfortunate Events is a delightful rendition of the book series by Lemony Snicket aka Daniel Handler. There are many reasons to love this film; the acting is well done, the story is compelling to watch, the director's approach to the story is successfully stylistic and visually intriguing.
Three talented children from a wealthy family are orphaned by a mysterious fire. Their trials and tribulations trying to escape from an evil Count Olaf or 'Uncle' are scary but not too scary and their intelligence and creativity pulls them out time after time.
Take a close look at the wonderful set design and the clothes. You almost want to dress like that everyday (well maybe). The children are expertly portrayed by Emily Browning, Liam Aiken and the baby by Kara and Shelby Hoffman. There are also cameos by Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Dustin Hoffman and Catherine O'Hara (Home Alone).
This movie may be a little too long and intense for children under four. You may want to pre-view it first or just realize that very young children (strange creatures they are) will need to be set up with My Little Pony in the den. As Count Olaf (as Stefano) would say, 'Children are strange and foreign to me. I never really was one. I do know that they are an important part of the ecosystem.'