7.5 out of 10
Jack Black as R.L. Stine
Directed by Rob Letterman
A fun cast and a great mix of laughs and horrors makes Goosebumps a treat for all ages.
When Zach Cooper and his mother move to Greendale, Maryland, he finds himself having to adjust to his new situation. He goes to his first day at his high school where his mother is the new principal. He befriends the nerd of the school who is ironically named “Champ.” And he meets the reclusive next-door neighbor and his mysterious daughter, Hannah.
As Zach grows closer to Hannah, her father becomes more and more violently opposed to them associating with each other. The tension culminates when Zach believes that her father is abusing her. However, when he investigates… Hannah is nowhere to be found. Instead he finds an unusual collection of books that turn out to be manuscripts for original “Goosebumps” novels written by R.L. Stine. But when Zach and his friend Champ accidentally open one of the books, they get the scare of their lives.
Goosebumps is rated PG for scary and intense creature action and images, and for some rude humor.
As Goosebumps started, I found myself continually impressed by the supporting cast. Amy Ryan kicked things off as the mom that tries to be cool and only succeeds in embarrassing her son. Then Jillian Bell appeared as the kooky but loving aunt who, of course, also embarrasses Zach. We then meet Ken Marino as the coach who laughs at all of Amy Ryan’s corny jokes and is secretly infatuated with her. Then Timothy Simons and Amanda Lund arrive on the scene as two incompetent cops who make Barney Fife look like Dirty Harry. This was a fantastic, funny, and engaging supporting cast that grabs your attention and invests you in the ride to come, and it’s all before the first monster even hits the screen. So when the monsters eventually do appear, you’re fully on board. I think its thanks a lot to the cast’s improvisational skills as well as the fun script written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.
While the supporting cast is awesome, the main cast carries the film well. Dylan Minnette makes a solid leading man as Zach Cooper. He plays a straight man to Ryan Lee as Champ, who essentially plays “Shaggy” in this cast. The two work well together. Odeya Rush is the mysterious Hannah Stine. She’s the typical rebellious, outgoing girl next door, but she has a secret that gives an interesting twist to the story. Then, of course, you have Jack Black as R.L. Stine. He’s funny, odd, and his rant about Stephen King will leave adults laughing. Overall, they make a great team, but let’s face it – the monsters are the real stars.
R.L. Stine’s rogue’s gallery of monsters appears in both the background as Easter eggs and in the foreground as stars. We’re treated to an awesome game of cat and mouse in a grocery store between our heroes and the werewolf. There’s a pretty cool car chase involving a giant mantis monster. And then an attack by an army of garden gnomes will have you looking over your shoulder at the tacky lawn ornaments. While the creatures are a little intense for really young kids, my 10-year-old son loved it.
Fans of Danny Elfman will be glad to hear his score for Goosebumps. It’s a bit more true to his form that we’re used to from the earlier Tim Burton films. And his quirky / creepy sound is perfect for the tone of the movie.
My wife, my 14-year-old son, and my 10-year-old son joined me at this screening and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. The action and comedy were all entertaining for the whole family and it was one of those rare movie-going experiences where we all left the theater entertained. I was also surprised when my young son, after the screening, declared that he wanted to write a book. He has requested that we get his grandmother’s typewriter and he has recruited other children on our block to print it and illustrate it. I’ve never seen a film inspire a kid of mine to action like this, so that alone made Goosebumps a winner in my book.
What Didn’t Work:
While there was a lot to love about Goosebumps, it did have some minor problems. One of those was the fact that Amy Ryan appeared less and less on the screen as the movie progressed. She started out as a major presence in the film and as the big finale unfolds, she ends up on the sidelines. I would have liked to see more of her.
As much fun as the monsters are, as soon as they appear we lose a lot of the humor and witty dialogue. The story becomes mostly them screaming and running from the monsters. I wish they could have maintained the early wit and humor through the action as well as the opening scenes. I also have to mention that the CGI on the monsters isn’t very strong. That is probably by design so that they aren’t too realistic and scary for young children, but they feel rather cartoony in their current state.
Slappy is featured as the main arch-nemesis of R.L. Stine, but I have to say that the ventriloquist dummy is one of the least interesting monsters on the screen. He simply looks creepy, threatens everyone with Jack Black’s voice, and zips around as the lights turn on and off. I’m not familiar with all of R.L. Stine’s characters, but I can’t help but wonder if there were better options to be used.
The Bottom Line:
If you were ever a fan of the Goosebumps books or Scooby-Doo, this is a film you’ll want to check out. It’s a great dose of horror for the whole family and one of those rare films that entertain young and old alike. This one’s worth checking out on the big screen.
Goosebumps opens on Friday, October 16 with previews on Thursday night.