Friday, October 23, 2015

Goosebumps



Full disclosure - I am a former Goosebumps fanboy. As a kid, I used to drool over the latest Goosebumps book cover until I finally had an opportunity to get one from the book fair at my elementary school. I went so far as to write a fan letter to R.L. Stine, who sent back a very sweet form letter to all of his fans, with what I always hoped was his real signature at the bottom (though it was probably a stamp or something). It even inspired me to write my first novel back in fifth grade, brilliantly titled "The House That Threw Up"... though it was probably equally inspired by the Goosebumps parody series (that lasted all of two installments), Gooflumps. Yeah, that's really what it was called. Even those ridiculous books have a bit of nostalgia for me, but they were nothing compared to my love for the Goosebumps series. With all that in mind, I went into this film hoping for nothing but a fun time with a few childhood memories brought to life. And thankfully it more-or-less succeeded.

Goosebumps tells the story of Zach Cooper and his mother moving into suburbia for the first time after the recent death of his father. Everyone seems welcoming enough, including his over-enthusiastic aunt, his desperate for attention classmate, and his new neighbor named Hannah who Zach has taken a liking to from first sight. The one exception is Hannah's mysterious and over-protective father, Mr. Shivers, who repeatedly and expressly forbids Zach from seeing Hannah again. However, after what appears to be a domestic disturbance from the frightening Mr. Shivers, Zach and his friend sneak into the Shivers house to rescue Hannah... only to find a shelf full of Goosebumps manuscripts containing the real-life monsters from their respective stories.

Of course, the monsters get loose and the rest of the film is them trying to get them back into their manuscripts. Right away there are quite a few things about this movie that surprised me. For one thing, despite being a movie almost exclusively for kids, I found the humor pretty enjoyable. I had a few chuckles at the interactions between the characters, and I even appreciated Jack Black's over-the-top performance as the creepy neighbor with a secret. It does take a little while for the story to get going, but thankfully the actors are engaging enough to keep us from clock-watching too much during these introductory scenes.

There were a few things I couldn't really look past, even with my rose-colored nostalgia glasses. For example, the visual effects in this film are pretty bad, especially for the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena and the Werewolf of Fever Swamp. I kind of wish they had tried it with more practical effects, but perhaps CGI is less scary for kids than a tangible, realistic creature. On the other hand, Slappy (the popular ventriloquist dummy from Night of the Living Dummy) appears to be practically achieved, and looks much more interesting and believable as a result. He's easily the creepiest part of the film, despite Jack Black's gregarious line readings.

This film had a few surprises, but none of them were written for maximum impact. As a result, the movie comes off as a bit forgettable and bland. It's not that I disliked it, as you can see from my star rating above, but it didn't leave much of a taste in my mouth. Unlike the iconic (to me, at least) imagery from the book covers, there wasn't much that stood out about this film, and as a Goosebumps fan it left me a little disappointed. Perhaps there will be sequels where more attention is paid to the monsters I and stories I loved. Still, I understand that this movie wasn't made for me, per se, and I think kids below 10 years old are really going to eat this film up. Not only that, but the acting was pretty good and the humor worked pretty well for me, despite it's somewhat wasted potential of the source material. Because of that, I'm giving Goosebumps a somewhat generous three stars.

GOOSEBUMPS is rated PG for scary and intense creature action and images, and for some rude humor