Now that they’re both coming out on DVD, I’ve decided to talk about two of the more recent film adaptations of beloved children’s books, The Spiderwick Chronicles and Prince Caspian. Both movies have a lot in common. Both deal with tightly knit families who enter a strange world and have adventures together. Both deal with with the requisite fantasy talking critters. And finally, both portray adults as creatures almost stranger and harder to comprehend (and markedly less awesome) than the talking critters. So it’s only fair, if we’re comparing the movies, to focus on those significant commonalities.
Prince Caspian: In Prince Caspian, your adults are male, power hungry, and more or less evil. This is partly due to C. S. Lewis’s unhealthy preoccupation with puberty, sin, and the one’s causal relationship with the other (see Philip Pullman’s books for a rebuttal), and partly because any sympathetic person who is significantly older than the children falls into the Talking Critter category. (Note: wise old mentors don’t count as adults, they’re really an entirely different category)
Spiderwick: In this movie, there’s a little bit more realism with the portrayal of the adults, which is both a strength and weakness. On the one hand, the sympathetic portrayal of Jared Grace’s mother makes some of his behavior towards her in the movie distinctly unsympathetic in comparison. But on the other hand, the extreme realism of the parents’ relationship with each other, and with their children, really highlights the idea of a fantasy world that lurks behind the cracks everyday life.
Prince Caspian:The Pevensie children all take their turns in the spotlight in this movie, except perhaps Edmund, who has all the best lines, but little of the significant action. Peter bores, Lucy charms, and Susan unexpectedly kicks ass. The movie really doesn’t play up their family relations as much as it could have, I think, concentrating more on their reactions to Caspian than to each other.
Spiderwick:This movie also has the older sister being the family’s designated ass-kicker. What’s the deal? Is this a new trend? While Spiderwick has, in general, more realistic family dynamics, the relationship between the twins was sort of underdeveloped and bland. I suspect this was because Freddie Highmore wasn’t quite up to the challenge of playing two different characters in the same film – he nailed each character, but couldn’t quite make them interact naturally.
Prince Caspian: Reepicheep for the win! Seriously, you don’t get much more awesome than a chivalrous, sword wielding, talking mouse. Even Aslan, who is inexplicably lazy in this chapter of the epic series, pales in comparison.
Spiderwick: It’s really too bad that Reepicheep isn’t in this movie. I prefer my Talking Critters a little cuter than either Hogsqueal or Thimbletack managed. Really, the gross/cute combo is not something I’ve ever been able to appreciate.
Prince Caspian: Narnia is a magical, medieval world, with gorgeous and sweeping landscapes. You get the sense that any darkness in this world is distinctly man made.
Spiderwick: Here the magical world is in your New England backyard, full of trees, but otherwise, not visibly more magical than you’d expect. Of course, there’s also a dangerous side, but it’s comprised of creepy/gross creatures that most people can’t even see.
Overall, both movies are strong, and super fun to watch, especially if you’ve read the respectives books – and they’re all your going to get in the near future, since I hear that Half Blood Prince isn’t going to come out till next July.