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With every new type of canvas to paint in Hollywood comes a bit of hesitation. The initial digital animation led to some of the best films of the genre, as only the best were made into motion pictures for fear of killing any momentum for the medium. Thus the beauty of Toy Story came to be, and from there flowed a number of great animated films that has since dwindled down to the mediocrity initially kept from the screen. Live capture animation is in the same infant stage as the Pixar dominated field was a mere 10 years ago, as 2004’s The Polar Express was a beauty of a film that showed how the digital 3d format could bring a realism to animation that had never been there previously. While computer animated films have been available on a regular basis, the rush for a live capture animated film hasn’t been at the same voracity as the standard computer-generated feature film that has become a staple of the cinema. So bringing one to life requires a top notch script and a quality cast behind it, two of a large field of good things Monster House has going for it.
Monster House follows DJ (Mitchel Musso) and Chowder (Sam Lerner), two childhood friends on the cusp of becoming young adults. DJ has a near obsession with his curmudgeonly neighbor Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi). Observing him through his telescope, he catalogs the misanthrope’s deeds against the children of the neighborhood; Nebbercracker over the years has claimed the property of any child that has come on to his property. When a squabble over Chowder’s basketball on his property leads to Nebbercracker’s apparent death, DJ and Chowder observe something even stranger than their bizarre neighbor’s actions. His house, worn and crusty, seems to be alive and just as curmudgeonly as its tenant. Joining forces with a young prep student (Spencer Locke) against the house, they combine their wits to try and stop the house from assaulting any other children as Halloween approaches. And as the film progresses, the beauty of the animation is only approached by the quality of the script.
And the film’s writing shockingly enough stands out more than the realism of the animation. The film’s plot revolves around the children and their quest against the house, of course, but there is a deeper subtext to be found. This is a film about dealing with that imaginary line between childhood and adulthood, about how inching closer to latter eliminates part of the innocence of the former, but doesn’t derail the story to make little points about this deeper aspect of the film. The film’s story has a razor sharp focus, keeping the film moving forward with a deeper meaning for those able to see it as the deeper context is going to be lost on the younger viewers it seeks to obtain. This is a film that has a lot of humor for children, but it’s not humor that could be lost on adults as well. Monster House has a lot of humor that is funny on different levels at the same time.
Gil Kenan may be a first time director but he has all the tools he needs to make a great film. To go with a great script that makes telling a story easier, the people behind Kenan developed The Polar Express as well as a lot of other films. With a master story-teller like Steven Spielberg as an executive producer, the sheer amount of talent that comes with him helps to erase any flaws in his story. While it isn’t a perfect film, as some pacing issues in the middle of the film hurt its flow, it is a very good one. Credit a great voice cast and the animation style that enables them to truly be in character.
Much like how Toy Story has a collection of great voice talent, Monster House may not have a lot of star power but it has a lot of great voices. Buscemi, Jon Heder, Jason Lee, Nick Cannon and Maggie Gyllenhaal all have small but meaningful roles that are well-designed for them. Buscemi in particular thrives with the voice work, bringing a great gravity and fear to a thankless role. The key is that the capture animation allows the cast to move and act, as opposed to stand in front of a microphone and read lines; it gives the animation a much crisper and more engaging look and feel to it. Heder, for example, would have a less meaningful, and certainly less funny, if he wasn’t able to use certain body mannerisms for his minor role. The rest of the cast is in the same boat, as an animator can’t bring to the table what an actor can for this type of film.
|InsidePulse’s Ratings for Monster House
||RATING(OUT OF 10)