What’s disheartening about Monster House isn’t just that it turns out to be a spasmodic, cacophonous roller coaster ride; it’s that before its tedious second half, Gil Kenan’s animated horror yarn appears poised to become the rightful heir to The Goonies’ kids-fantasy film mantle. From its opening presentation of up-close-and-personal death, beer drinking, and pre-teens struggling with the transition from adolescence to puberty, this CG adventure offers a mature, distinctly ‘80s-flavored portrait of childhood fears, anxieties, and wonder that never makes light of the often fanciful inventions of imaginative young minds. Employing a more cartoony version of The Polar Express‘s motion-capture animation techniques, Kenan’s directorial debut concerns DJ (Mitchel Musso), a boy with a cracking voice and lots of supernatural trouble thanks to a deadly run-in with the evil old man (Steve Buscemi’s Nebbercracker) who lives across the street and loves to viciously confiscate the neighborhood kids’ toys. Because DJ, his Chunk-like best friend Chowder (Sam Lerner), and prep school romantic interest Jenny (Spencer Locke) are so distinctly drawn, and because Kenan’s vision of cookie-cutter suburbia exudes both sunny banality and mysterious creepiness, the trio’s initial Halloween Eve dealings with Nebbercracker’s possessed house—its façade anthropomorphizing into a hideous face replete with a hallway rug tongue that lashes out to snag unsuspecting passersby and tricycles—successfully conveys a sense of innocence being shockingly upended by the discovery that the stuff of bedtime tales is actually real. But once the action moves inside the house and to an extravagantly hectic chase through the quiet town’s nighttime streets, Monster House (despite solid voice-work by, among others, Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Jason Lee) transmogrifies into a lumbering spectacle of sound and fury, dispatching with virtually all character and situational nuance in favor of superheroic exploits and enormously involved—but largely dreary—set pieces fit for the preordained tie-in video game. If, however, the film is ultimately more interested in frenzied camera swoops and punchy edits than in relating its protagonists’ social/physiological development to its revelations about the house’s haunting, it’s a misstep not nearly as unsettling as the depiction of African-American cop Lister (Nick Cannon) as a spooked, stammering, bug-eyed stereotype.
- Gil Kenan
- Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, Pamela Pettler
- Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner, Spencer Locke, Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, Jon Heder, Kevin James, Nick Cannon, Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard, Kathleen Turner
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: