Monster House

Cast:
Sam Lerner as Chowder
Spencer Locke as Jenny
Mitchel Musso as DJ
Steve Buscemi as Nebbercracker
Nick Cannon as Lister
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Zee
Jon Heder as Skull
Kevin James as Landers
Jason Lee as Bones
Catherine O’Hara as Mom
Kathleen Turner as Constance
Fred Willard as Dad

Summary:
Funny dialogue, cool animation, and a great cast make “Monster House” a fun movie for the whole family. However, parents of sensitive younger kids may want to avoid it. It is intense at times.

Story:
DJ is a young boy living in a neighborhood across from a strange house. A grouchy old man named Nebbercracker lives there and constantly yells at kids who get on his lawn. He also steals their toys when they are left behind. DJ has spied on him for years and has documented a number of strange occurrences. However, when DJ’s friend Chowder has his basketball confiscated by Nebbercracker, a confrontation ensues that sends the old man to the hospital.

Now with the old man gone, stranger things begin happening at the house. It comes alive. The house begins snatching people that approach it, but only when adults aren’t around. DJ and Chowder see the supernatural kidnappings, but nobody believes that they’re telling the truth. When a young girl named Jenny almost gets snatched, DJ and Chowder save her. Together the three try and think of a way to stop the house. To make matters worse, Halloween is just days away and every kid in the neighborhood will begin approaching the Monster House. Can our heroes stop it in time?

“Monster House” is rated PG for scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor and brief language.

What Worked:
First off, this film has fantastic dialogue. It is funny, twisted, witty, and clever. There’s a great laugh every minute. Here are a couple of examples:

DJ: We have to fight back.
Chowder: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I’m not going inside *that* house!
Jenny: I say it’s worth a shot.
Chowder: [quickly] Yes I agree. Let’s do it.

Jenny: If those are the teeth and that’s the tongue, then that must be the uvula.
Chowder: Oh. So it’s a *girl* house.
Jenny: *What*?

The great quotes just go on and on. The Chowder character gets many of the best lines. I don’t know how many were improvised and how many were straight out of the script, but he steals almost every scene he’s in.

Besides the great dialogue, the animation is also superb. What’s most noteworthy is the facial animation. The CG characters really act and the emotion on the faces is spot on. They really captured the performances of the actors well. The overall body motion is also obviously motion captured, but the stop-motion style of animation gives it a surreal quality that makes you feel like you’re watching Claymation. It’s a unique style that works well. I’d also highly recommend seeing this film in 3-D if at all possible. As good as it looked in 2-D, 3-D must look spectacular.

The acting in the film was great. The three lead kids were perfect. While both Spencer Locke as Jenny and Mitchel Musso as DJ were good, Sam Lerner is the real standout as Chowder. He kept reminding me of Chunk from “The Goonies.” (In fact, this film seems to be set around 1985 though it’s never stated. People from my generation will probably find it a bit nostalgic.) I also had a lot of fun trying to guess who the cameo voice actors were in the film. I was able to identify most of them. Listen for Steve Buscemi, Nick Cannon, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jon Heder, Kevin James, Jason Lee, Catherine O’Hara, Kathleen Turner, and Fred Willard.

What Didn’t Work:
I took my 8-year-old daughter to this film and against my better judgment, I took my 4-year-old son, too. I was a little worried it would be too intense for him and sure enough the movie was exactly what I expected. There were some pretty scary moments. The old man is scary looking and physically attacks kids. The house turned into a monster and ate people. There were dead bodies, ghosts, and other scary things, too. It was a lot for little kids to take in. I was expecting to have to pay for years of therapy after showing my son the film. But as scary as it was, both kids absolutely loved it. They cowered a couple of times, but at the end they thoroughly enjoyed “Monster House.” However, I’ve desensitized them to monsters over the years thanks to “Star Wars” and comic books, but more sensitive children probably shouldn’t see it. If your kid is sensitive to this kind of stuff, you probably already know if they shouldn’t see it.

I didn’t have any real gripes with this movie. If I had to complain about anything, it would be the pacing. A few times in the film the pacing of the story slows down dramatically and may have you checking your watch for the time. However, it picks up again for a big, though a bit Hollywood style, finale.

The Bottom Line:
“Monster House” was fun for me as an adult as well as for my kids. It was funny, creepy, and beautifully animated. Definitely see it in 3-D if you can.

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