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Awesome: 37.5%
Worth A Look40.38%
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10 reviews, 44 user ratings

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Monster House
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Film That "The Goonies" Should Have Been"
5 stars

Now that the summer movie season is at its halfway point, I think that it is fair to say that this year’s crop of blockbusters has been a pretty disappointing group of films. Most of them have ranged from the generally blah (“M:I-3") to the downright terrible (“X-Men: The Last Stand”) and even the better ones (such as “Superman Returns” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”) are so weighted down with the sheer effort of trying to dazzle increasingly jaded audiences that it is difficult to just relax and have a good time with them. What separates the wonderful new animated film “Monster House” from the rest of the blockbuster pack is that it contains the very element that cannot be bought with zillions of dollars and a hard-sell marketing campaign–a giddy sense of genuine fun that can be felt in every single frame.

The plot is one of those things of simple and elegant beauty that is so catchy that you may find yourself wondering why no one every thought of it before now. In a typical Spielbergian suburb, young DJ (Mitchel Musso) has the misfortune to live across the street from the rambling old house belonging the nefarious Mr Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), a cranky old man who has made it his life’s mission to confiscate any toys, kites, balls or other kiddie ephemera that finds its way onto his lawn. As the story opens, DJ, whose parents have just left for the weekend and placed him in the care of skanky babysitter Zee (Maggie Gyllenhaal), is playing basketball with pal Chowder (Sam Lerner) when their ball takes an unfortunate hop onto Nebbercracker’s lawn. In a rare bit of boldness, DJ goes to retrieve it and is confronted by the man himself, who promptly drops from the exertion and is taken away with a sheet over his head and no siren from the ambulance. This is bad enough, but DJ later get a phone call in the middle of the night that seems to be coming from Nebbercracker’s house even though there is no one there.

DJ and Chowder begin to investigate (in pure “Rear Window” fashion) and they soon become convinced that the house itself has somehow come to life and is possessed with Nebbercracker’s spirit–especially when a dog appears to leave a nasty surprise on the lawn and receives an even nastier one in exchange. Of course, no one–not Zee, nor her sleazy boyfriend (Jason Lee) or a couple of dopey cops (Kevin James and Nick Cannon)–will believe that their story is anything other than a Mountain Dew-inspired hallucinations. They do find one ally in Jenny (Spencer Locke), the pretty and popular girl whom they both save (and immediately crush on) when she picks the wrong house to attempt to sell candy to. Before long, the three of them find themselves inside the house and discover that it is really and truly alive–it even comes complete with a chandelier that serves as the uvula. (“Wow, so it’s a girl house!”) While trying to find the heart of the house in order to stop it before it can destroy the neighborhood–oh yeah, it is also Halloween, the one night when kids would cheerfully approach a house they would otherwise avoid like the plague–the three discover the real secrets behind both the house and Mr. Nebbercracker’s lifelong behavior towards the neighborhood.

Watching “Monster House,” I immediately found myself transported back to the old Showplace Theaters in Crystal Lake, Illinois–the place where I spent a good chunk of my youth watching such films as “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Poltergeist,” “Gremlins” and “Ghostbusters.” These were films that were aimed at younger audiences, of course, but didn’t come off as though they were. In these films, they realized that kids could handle movies that didn’t have all of the genuine thrills and scares lopped out of them in an effort to secure a family-friendly rating as too many of them do these days. Perhaps because it has been co-produced by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, two of the men who specialized in just those kinds of films back in the 1980's, “Monster House” has that same sort of appeal–some parents may wring their hands over whether the film is too intense for their children while the kids will be having too much of a blast watching it to notice. The film is obviously aimed for family audiences and younger kids (with plenty of gross-out jokes to tickle them to death)but it still includes scenes with some genuine tension and creepiness to them–the trip into the basement that reveals the full secret of the house builds a nice sense of suspense and while we are fairly certain that our heroes won’t perish during the final standoff, they are put through a wringer that is more perilous than usually for a film of the particular genre. (It does try to soften the blow by providing a happy fate for some of the characters during the end credits but those bits feel so out-of-place that I imagine that director Gil Kenan only put them in under extraordinary duress.)

Visually, “Monster House” is a delight throughout–although the film utilizes the same kind of motion-capture technology that Zemeckis unsuccessfully deployed in “The Polar Express,” the wrinkles that made that earlier work so creepy to look at have been smoothed over and the resulting film is so seamless and beautiful that I didn’t even notice the process until I saw some clips on TV later on. (That said, the Luddite in me does wish that someone could have figured out a way to pull off this film as a live-action feature–imagine what Joe Dante, perhaps as a companion piece to his live-action cartoon contribution to the “Twilight Zone” movie, could have done with the material with the power of Spielberg and Zemeckis behind him.) However, unlike too many recent animated films, where the visual glories are pretty much the entire show, the look of the film is just one of the factors working in its favor. At the risk of making a cruddy pun, I have to point out that one of the key elements to the success of “Monster House” is that it has a strong screenplay serving as its foundation that deftly juggles knockabout comedy and Rube Goldberg-esque action sequences while cannily exploiting the fact that every neighborhood has one creepy house that no one, young or old, dares go near after dark.

The three kids at the center of the story are funny and engaging and I especially liked the way that the two boys found themselves at times less terrified by the notion of a house that eats people than of those weird stirrings brought on by the arrival of Jenny. And while this film, like most animated works these days, features a cast of well-known actors, they seem to have been hired less for their marquee value and more for their ability to actually bring something to the party. Of them, I especially like the work of Steve Buscemi, who is fearsome early on and oddly sympathetic once we learn a little more about him (his reading of the line “So I finished the house” is a marvel that manages to be both darkly funny and genuinely tragic), and Kathleen Turner, about whose contributions I will say no more except to mention that they are unforgettable. The only dud in the cast is Nick Cannon, whose scaredy-cat cop lurches far closer into Stepin Fetchit territory that one might expect from a film made in 2006.

Other than that, “Monster House” is that rarest of cinematic creatures–a genuine surprise and delight from start to finish that doesn’t blow all the best bits in the trailer. Kids will be delighted with its mix of laughs and chills while adults will be taken back to the favorite movies of their own youth. This isn’t just one of the best family films of the year or one of the best animated films–this is just one of the best films of the year period.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14660&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/21/06 00:11:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2006 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/12/10 karamashi One of the best CGI films on the decade. 5 stars
10/25/09 Barbara25 Catch them before they fall: Identification and assessment to prevent reading failure in yo 2 stars
10/24/09 His_wife72 Upon clicking the web address, the recipient is connected to a website containing active co 3 stars
10/24/09 Mr.Carrot80 Someone makes a widget, someone buys that widget at a lower price than they in turn sell i 4 stars
10/23/09 Arnold95   There is accumulating evidence that smaller depositories treat their customers in a less 5 stars
10/23/09 Bob49 Principals paint a vibrant picture of community engagement: local community-based organizat 2 stars
10/23/09 Loy39 If they cannot withstand the scrutiny by having the light of day shine on their dubious act 2 stars
10/23/09 JXL18 What's Going On has been reissued on casette tape and compact disc as well. , 3 stars
10/22/09 Kelvin53 As today's compromised sites are injected with malicious scripts, it will be a challenge to 5 stars
10/22/09 BadGirl81 So how do you do this when your writing job keeps you tied to your desk? , 5 stars
7/27/09 Dr.Lao Could have been great if they didn't strain so hard to be funny 3 stars
8/14/08 Shaun Wallner Great Kids Film! 5 stars
2/09/08 Samantha P i thought this movie was too scary to be a kids movie, i'm 19 and i jumped a few times! 4 stars
10/13/07 Private Terrific production design. CGI horror for teens up though borderline offensive sidekick. 5 stars
6/27/07 Carol Baker good animation but I've seen better 3 stars
6/09/07 Danielle Ophelia Not a total loss...vaguely disappointing, but not devastating. 3 stars
5/28/07 fools♫gold Whenonesees trustedshelter turningonthe public. Alongversion ofa smart episode of "Courage" 5 stars
5/24/07 Tracey Chambers not a kids movie, and too boring for adults. 1 stars
3/20/07 David Pollastrini great animation 4 stars
1/28/07 Jim Funny, dark, but doesn't anyone else live on this street? See also Thief of Always ... 4 stars
1/10/07 Tracey Chambers not fun at all. boring and well, just plain stupid. 1 stars
11/09/06 Charles Tatum Creepy, fun stuff 4 stars
11/08/06 Seanboy Pure fun. Great use of Jason Lee, Heder. 4 stars
10/31/06 May Q. Horney FATAL HAL meets SHALLOW ATTRACTION. 1 stars
10/15/06 William Goss Effortless entertainment, more so for big kids than young ones. 4 stars
10/09/06 Zack Morris Great movie, Brings back memories of the Goonies, Monter Squad, Lost boys 5 stars
9/21/06 Lisa Craven Great kids movie, my 6 year old loved it and was not at all scared. 4 stars
9/18/06 Joyster kind of boring 3 stars
8/24/06 Jordan Green it was crazy and wicked,it ruled. 5 stars
8/23/06 Chad Thomas Good movie! The kids are nearly as dead looking as in Polar Express! 4 stars
8/17/06 Tiffany not for little kids 4 stars
8/16/06 Littlepurch Great. Well-cast actors, a lot of humour, and it was nice that it tried to be scary. 4 stars
8/06/06 Erik Van Sant Forget 'Cars'. This is the animated pic of the year. Reminded me of childhood movie-going. 5 stars
8/02/06 chris dawson Typical Spielberg/Zemekis fluff--quickly forgotten. 3 stars
8/01/06 Mase Easily the best flick of the summer, for smart kids and adults. Will pass the test of time. 5 stars
8/01/06 Dena A great idea that fell flat. I was bored within the first 2 minutes. 2 stars
7/29/06 Troy M. Grzych Pure fun and excitement. Outstanding use of Film! 5 stars
7/29/06 Ole Man Bourbon Cute and fun, seems too scary for kids, drags a little, black character is a stereotype. 4 stars
7/28/06 KingNeutron Decent FX, just-average plot; some scary moments. 3 stars
7/25/06 Quigley I thought it was really cool. Chowder was a riot. Thank you, Spielberg and Zemeckis 5 stars
7/22/06 spoiledmeat this decades goonies perhaps? 5 stars
7/21/06 David Hollingsworth This is the best family film of 2006. 5 stars
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  21-Jul-2006 (PG)
  DVD: 24-Oct-2006



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