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Nostalgia aside, Goosebumps offers enough fun that the entire family can enjoy.

 

The haunted mask. The wolf boy. The dummy that came alive. These are the staples of horror that kids grow up with in the venerable Goosebumps series. Those books in their own section of the school library that kids gleefully check out for a “safe” scare. Twenty three years after the first book was published comes a feature film to celebrate the franchise.

 

If anyone one came into the film to see a masterpiece of cinema, they will be sorely mistaken. Goosebumps is cute, funny, and frenetic, but it is not deep, “adult” scary, or smart. The first half hour or so is very poorly written. It is filled with clichés, poor dialog, and little humor. Once through the first 30 minutes though, the viewer will be rewarded with a satisfying Halloween family film

 

We start with the introduction of the Cooper family comprised of Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mom Gale (Amy Ryan). Right from the introduction, it is as if the writers wanted to throw in all things a high school kid would find traumatic: moving to a new town and school, a father who passed away, and a mother who is the new vice principal of the high school. My guess is that it was to build sympathy with Zach, but it doesn’t come off. The problem is that all of these issues that would be heavy on a teenager are glossed over and forgotten about as soon as they are introduced. Something as heavy as a parent passing away should either be expounded upon or left out altogether, not given a 30 second shot of Zach watching a video of his dad on a camcorder and then shoving it under the bed when mom knocks on the door, never to be mentioned again.

 

It doesn’t end there. We are faced with a mom trying to “connect” with the students of the new school (who are typically disrespectful) who says, “We [the teachers] can’t stop twerking about it.” In the same scene, we are introduced to Champ (Ryan Lee) who, through forced writing, attaches himself to Zach to move the plot along. Champ, yes that’s his real name, is the comic relief. Relief only if you call constantly screaming and being kind of creepy comedy.

 

Following the cliché route, Zach meets the girl next door Hannah (Odeya Rush). Following the theme of teenage clichés, Hannah leads Zach through some woods to an abandoned amusement park, where they climb a ferris wheel. Music plays and they almost kiss, after knowing each other for a grand total of 5 minutes.

 

The film doesn’t take off until the introduction of R.L. Stein, played by Jack Black. Our first glimpse of the reclusive Stein was him telling Zach to stay away from his daughter Hannah. So of course Zach takes heed. Wait, no he doesn’t. He breaks into the house because he thinks he hears a domestic dispute between Stein and Hannah. What follows is the release of all of Stein’s monsters from his books. The rest of the film consists of trying to capture all the monsters at a frenetic pace.

 

For all the faults of this film, there is plenty of good. And, thankfully, the faults are primarily contained within those first 30 or 40 minutes. One of the strengths of the film is the atmosphere. It perfectly captures the feeling of the Goosebumps books. Geared toward kids, Goosebumps is darkly lit, a little spooky, with gentle scares for the younger. It is easily accessible for all ages. Fans and those who grew up reading the books will easily recognize monsters such as the werewolf, giant praying mantis, invisible boy, and Slappy the dummy.

 

And speaking of Slappy, voiced by Black, he is the main antagonist, releasing the monsters out of spite toward Stein. He is genuinely creepy with his dead wooden eyes and Black’s excellent voice work. He is a good foil to Stein.

 

 

Speaking of Jack Black, he put in a good performance as one R.L. Stein. Black brings this version of Stein to life as an over dramatic, eccentric author. His special form of hyperactive “over acting” not only enhances some of the running jokes in the film, but adds a certain charm to the character that children will certainly gravitate toward.

 

Rush and Minnette also put in strong performances as their chemistry seems to grow as the film moves along. The kids in the audience are going to enjoy seeing their budding relationship. The biggest problem is that some of the dialog in the script was just plain bad. Most of that was because of jokes and puns that just didn’t come off. But that isn’t necessarily the fault of the actors delivering them.

 

The humor generally comes off, especially when not delivered by Champ. For the adult watching the film, he is annoying and shouty. For the kids, humor will be found simply in his squeaks and squeals. The best moments come from the running jokes comparing Stein to Stephan King.

 

In addition, the monsters brought to life were well animated throughout. The effect of lawn gnomes piecing themselves together, as well as the living ink scenes, were well constructed. It is hard to find a special effect that did not come off well.

 

The worst parts of the film though involve Zach’s mom, Gale, and the other teachers/administrators. The principal is the typical “Hey, who said that!?!” principal seen in many of these types of films. The gym teacher is genuinely creepy in his limited appearances, leering and awkwardly stalking Gale. And Gale is shown as unable to connect with just about anyone, commenting she didn’t know what twerking was, right after using the word. Her treatment of Zach was curious as well. It’s never stated, but apparently Zach was some sort of delinquent in their old city because she treats him as such throughout the entire film. It gets to be tiresome and the film would not have missed her after the initial familial introduction.

 

On the whole though, Goosebumps is an enjoyable film for the entire family. Young parents who grew up reading the books will enjoy the trip down memory lane seeing memorable monsters come to life. The kids will like the safely spooky and scary scenes, and humor geared toward them. It has its issues, mainly because of some poor dialog and minor characters. But the performances of Black, Rush, and Minnette more than make up for them. The end product is a fun Halloween film the entire family can enjoy.

 

Directed By: Rob Letterman

Produced By: Deborah Forte, Neil Moritz

Written By: Darren Lemke, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski

Distibuted By: Columbia Pictures

Starring: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan

Run Time: 103 minutes

Rating: PG

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