“All the monsters I’ve ever created are locked inside these books. But when they open…”
Viewer beware, you’re in for a scare…on the silver screen. Teenager Zach (Dylan Minnette), and his vice principal mother Gale (Amy Ryan), have moved from New York to the sleepy town of Madison, Delaware for a fresh start. It’s kind of a dull place, but Zach does meet an girl his age in the cutie-next-door Hannah (Odeya Rush), who has a creepy and mysterious father, Mr. Shivers, (Jack Black) who wants Hannah to stay away from Zach.
As Zach begins to delve deeper into who Mr. Shivers is and why he is so protective of Hannah, it becomes clear that he’s hiding something, and for good reason. Upon stumbling on multiple locked Goosebumps books authored by R.L. Stine, one is accidentally opened, and eventually all are opened. Unleashed are the horrors that make up each respective story. Now running rampant in Madison, it is up to Zach, Hannah, new friend Champ (Ryan Lee) and R.L Stine to take these creatures out of the real world and back onto the pages.
Anyone who was in the age range of eight-to-eighteen around the mid-90’s knows about Goosebumps. Not the cultural phenomenon that Harry Potter was, yet still, much credit has to be given to author R.L Stine for drawing so many youngsters into the world of literature. So, after many years in development and way after the series’ peak, the Goosebumps movie is a real thing, and it is simple, family friendly fun. But in the view of yours truly, it is easy to wonder if I would have enjoyed it more if it had just came out a decade or so earlier.
The good thing about Goosebumps is that there is absolutely some nostalgia in seeing these monsters
fully CGI realized with effects that are about middle-grade quality. There’s the occasional fun to be had with trying to spot out that character from your favorite book in the series. But, this doesn’t work as strongly as hoped, though. Speaking for myself, because it has been so many years since I have read one of these books, only a few of the big antagonists were remembered clearly.
This is only brought up because a time comes about in the runtime where monster upon monster is introduced, and it feels like the movie assumes the viewer knows what those things are, what book they came from, etc. There is no doubt that Goosebumps and director Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens, Gulliver’s Travels), rely on the nostalgia and WHOA! factor to make up the crux of the feature in lieu of a great plot, and though it works initially, it wanes quickly.
Story-wise, there’s nothing amazing or crappy about it. Like Jack Black’s character states, every story that has ever been told can be broken down into three parts: A beginning, a middle, and a twist. The Goosebumps screenplay, like the novels, follows suit, setting the stage for an all-but-certain sequel. It moves quick enough, perhaps a tad too quick, but it doesn’t drag at any point. There’s a meta-aspect in both the humor sometimes (more chuckles than outright hilarity), and the actual plot, and even if there is a lot going on, the story told this way is probably better than lifting a story from one of the books directly. That is what the 90’s television show was for. Shame composer Danny Elfman couldn’t throw this awesome theme in some fashion here, however.
Dylan Minnette and Jack Black both serve as lead actor in this one. The former is perfectly solid and likable as the average male teenager that is tasked with saving the day. He also shares good chemistry with his love interest, played by Odeya Rush. Their romance is something that could have felt forced but actually is fairly sweet. The latter (Black), is over-the-top just enough without it being completely goofy, and is the man who provides the most laughs. It feels like it has been a while since he has done something of note that was a live movie. Other characters, like friend Champ, two police officers, and an aunt played by Jillian Bell are present for comedy only, except they fall short more times than not in delivering it. It’s the type of comedy that might endear itself better to kids than older people.
Goosebumps is probably best looked at under two lenses. The 10-12 year old me likely would have loved this, while the 25-year old me isn’t as forgiving. But, the fact that this is really at least 10 years overdue, competent, and not mangled beyond belief is a win. Let’s split the difference.
Photo credits go to vibeonfilms.com, ew.com, and parade.com.
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