Directed by: Rob Letterman.
Running Time: 103 min.
This is a cinematic rendition of the premise that R.L.Stine (self plugging), the author of the popular “Goosebumps” series from the 90’s played by Jack Black, actually created real monsters that he kept locked up in original manuscripts. The main character, Zach (Dylan Minnette), breaks into Stine’s house to help his daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush), when he and Champ the sidekick (Ryan Lee), open a book and start a chain of events that releases the goosebumps monsters into the real world.
As a fan of the book series and the television show as a kid, I had been looking forward to a little nostalgia plug combined with a great story, visuals and action.
Well, to my disappointment, I only got a portion of my expectations.
So what’s the good about this movie?
The technical end of things was its strong points, a good faithful adaption to the visual styles of the creatures from the book covers, with particular kudos in design to Slappy (Jack Black), The Abominable Snowman, and the Werewolf of Fever Swamp. The action utilized its environment decently enough, and the cinematography was not extraneous, with a score that stayed neatly in the background without any distressing unneeded pop music outside of the high school dance.
Now, for the bad parts, and unfortunately, this movie has a fair share.
The opening 15 minutes was sort of meh. Some of the humour was rather cliché, tired, and somewhat detrimental for the younger generation (something like some of the 90’s humour actually) though the humour improved a little in the last hour or so, but not by much.
The beginning plot was somewhat unoriginal, but Hannah and Zach did have a decent set-up, even if both of the characters weren’t…well, they weren’t a step out of the mold let’s just say. Hanna in particular was somewhat useless (which actually works somewhat against how R.L Stine portrayed some of his female characters in his book series, particularly the leads) though I will give props to the actress who at least tried her all to work with what she was given, and there was some decent action scenes in the last hour.
The adults, with the exception of Stine and, interestingly enough, the Aunt (Jillian Bell), were useless throughout this film, seemingly there only because the movie’s relationship to reality requires adult bodies to exist. The incompetent police cliché was even stupider here and the mother, a vice principal mind you, is even more useless (another 90’s trope from many children’s programs). The necessary parental character might have actually worked better here if they had Zach move in with his aunt, say after both parents were killed off. She had a bit more of a character about her at least, even if it was a ditzy one, she actually did things and didn’t question her nephew’s credibility as opposed to his own mother, and would make Zack a more sympathetic character as well.
The pacing in the first half hour or so was also really slow, and somewhat boring. I understand the need for establishment, which is all well and fine, but by the time they got to the action; they had only an hour to work this amazing roster of monsters, which could have been further utilized in more creative ways about the town.
While there was a decent use of tension in the last hour, there was no chance for proper utilization of the monster characters with the exception of the werewolf and the abominable snowman. Even Slappy, who felt particularly rushed, being the main antagonist, never fully embraced the briefly mentioned relationship between the dummy and Stine, which was actually rather interesting for the brief moment it lasted. Some scenes with just Slappy and Stine would have benefited, perhaps looking back on his relationship with Stine,maybe even a flashback, would have really fleshed him out even more, taking him from a good antagonist into a great antagonist. Even the potential that Slappy himself might have been the original creator and Stine one of his creations was just a throw away joke, and would have been a better twist then what was offered and seen from a mile away.
In the end, everything did have an appeal to nostalgia, but that faithfulness of the material should not have extended to the faults of the 90’s clichés, tired and offensive humour, and 1 dimensional tropes, and some of these characters which got whacked with the convenient moron stick. The design of the monsters was faithful to the classic cover art, the Goosebumps standard 3 tier act (while predictable) was faithful (beginning, middle, twist), but the weaknesses common of the 90’s could have been left out of the final print, particularly if you’re trying to appeal to a new generation of watchers. Basically treat this new demographic with some modicum of intelligence and respect.
As for the adult fans such as myself who were around during the “Goosebump” heyday, watch it pretty much for the visuals, some of the action, the monster guessing game, and nod to R.L Stine’s writing style (for the most part); really nothing else here for you, I recommend sticking to the television show and books.
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