One has to give Goosebumps credit for not taking the easy way out.
I’m not saying it’s a great film, but compared to the lazy cash-in on 90s nostalgia it could be, it’s a somewhat novel film that takes a new direction on the material at hand.
Now I’m definitively not the audience for this film. Like Jurassic World, it seems to have been thought up as a way to get late twenty-something parents who came of age in the 90s down to the theater with their kids. I, however, am probably what one would consider an 80s kid. I was too old for the series when it came about. Like a lot of things that feature teenagers, the Goosebumps books were actually for ‘tweens and younger. This means I’ve never read one of the books. I also never saw the TV show of the same name. Honestly, I thought R.L. Stine was like the “author” of the Nancy Drew books, Carolyn Keene in that he was someone Scholastic made up to give continuity to an impossibly long book series. It’s hard to blame me seeing as how there’s somewhere around 10,000 of them. Now, seeing that nearly every monster and villain featured in the film is a take-off of an existing monster from a famous horror film, I guess I understand how it may not have been that difficult to push them out so fast.
One would expect a push to turn the series into a franchise with an adaptation of some of the more beloved individual stories or a Creepshow-style anthology film for the little ones, but that’s not what we get.
While the film isn’t terribly original (I found myself referring to it as “Spoop-manji,” as it’s impossible to escape thinking of it as a horror-themed remake of the Robin Williams vehicle), it’s certainly more than one would expect from a kiddie-lit franchise. It’s jumps into the same meta-flavored Kool-Aid that The Lego Movie occupied in terms of trying to be something better than it could be. And the result is enjoyable, slickly made and not insulting.
In fact, I could see it becoming like the Monster Squad was to a cult audience of my generation; something beloved to a gaggle of horror-loving youth as they get older, while those who see it over a certain age will view it as a not-unwelcome curiosity, but not get what all the fuss is about.
The basic premise is that a fictional version of Stine, played by a barely restrained Jack Black bring more ham to the screen than a movie about a Hawaiian pizza, has to keep his creations locked in their books, else they’ll come to life and terrorize the populace. The premise is as paper-thin as his typing paper as to the “why.” When a new kid moves next door for his brush with the supernatural, a la Joe Dante’s The Hole, he befriend’s Stine’s daughter and through a short series of mishaps, unleashes the author’s imagination on their unsuspecting ‘burg.
It’s all in the name of throwing the entirety of the series’ creatures at the audience at once and it has something of a “burn-the-house-down” feeling to it. Sure, one can’t completely dismiss a sequel being made of pretty much any film but Passion of the Christ these days, but it doesn’t feel like an attempt to jumpstart a franchise. In fact, it feels like just the opposite and it’s refreshing.
There are points where the film threatens to go off the rails as Black competes with Super 8’s Ryan Lee to see who can be the bigger weirdo, but fortunately it trucks along at a commendable pace and there are enough welcome character actors (Amy Ryan, Ken Marino…) and jokes for the grown-up horror aficionado to keep things from ever capsizing. (Yes, I realize I just mixed a train and a boat metaphor.)
The bottom line is, if you’re the afore-mentioned audience this film was made for, you should enjoy it, especially as Halloween draws near. If you’re not, you may still have fun, but you’ll be missing out on the inherent charm for fans and young ‘uns.
Three damns given out of five