One can see why Jack Black would be attracted to a project like Goosebumps. The last film that was a genuine hit that he starred in was Tropic Thunder almost a decade ago. He’s been more successful with his voice than as a starring attraction and Goosebumps is the type of film perfect for someone with his lackluster drawing record. It’s a franchise in the waiting, as the built in fan base should come out and give him something he hasn’t had in some time: a box office hit.
Simple premise. Zach (Dylan Minnette) is the new kid in town, having moved with his mother (Amy Ryan) from New York City to the suburbs in Delaware. His next door neighbor happens to be R.L Stine (Black) and there’s a mystery behind his novels. Instead of being figments of his imagination … they were in reality physical manifestations of Stine’s imagination that he wound up trapping in manuscripts. When they get loose it’s up to Zach, his friend Champ (Ryan Lee) and Stine’s daughter (Odeya Rush) to get them back into the books where they belong.
And for people currently in the age bracket for the books this is a perfect adaptation of the series to film. It’s a PG rated film that borders on a G rating with scares that a young child would be worried about. Anyone over 12 should be able to see coming minutes away at the earliest, of course, but anyone over 12 should go more for nostalgia than anything else. This is a film aiming purely at the current audience, nothing more, and is that nice bridge between animated fare aimed purely at the very young and the summer action blockbuster for the slightly older.
The thing the film that does exceptionally well is on the audio/visual side. This has a lot of potentially problematic animation, having a number of difficult things to create, and the film does so well. Nothing in this film feels fake or computer animated. A number of films over the past couple years have excessively used CGI and this film doesn’t over do it. There’s just enough to make it worthwhile but the film doesn’t overdo it.
It’s refreshing in a way. We know it’s CGI but the film doesn’t go overboard and take us out of the moment.
The problem is that the rest of the film doesn’t have that sort of care if you’re over the age of eight or so. There’s nothing we don’t see coming from miles ahead, and nothing funny that isn’t a couple inches removed from a fart joke, as the film really doesn’t try to appeal on an intellectual basis to anyone besides young children. It makes the film no better than a low level animated film in that regard as there’s plenty of greatness waiting to be found.
There’s enough here that a great movie could be found. This is a great riff on the book series, giving it a fairly brilliant context, and the film doesn’t do a lot with it. There’s plenty to be mined here and Rob Letterman doesn’t do much beyond give us a surface view of what the material could be.
Director: Rob Letterman Writer: Darren Lemke, based on the novel series of the same name by R.L Stine. Notable Cast: Jack Black, Amy Ryan, Dylan Minnette, Ryan Lee, Odeya Rush