Friday, October 30, 2015

Goosebumps Review

As a child of the nineties who was in elementary school at the dead center of the decade I was completely immersed in R. L. Stine's Goosebumps series. I'd go to bookstores monthly and was constantly checking to see if the latest installment was on the shelves yet. I owned and had read pretty much the entire series at least once, probably more. I was such a fan that 20 years later when a movie trailer for Goosebumps (2015) was released, everyone who put up with my fanaticism back in the day linked the video to me. Goosebumps not only is a really fun adventure movie that showcases many of the classic Goosebumps monsters, the movie's story even felt like a Goosebumps book.
Upset about moving from a big city to a small town, teenage Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) finds a silver lining when he meets the beautiful girl, Hannah (Odeya Rush), living right next door. But every silver lining has a cloud, and Zach's appears when he learns that Hannah has a mysterious dad who is revealed to be R. L. Stine (Jack Black), the author of the bestselling Goosebumps series. It turns out that there is a reason why Stine is so strange... he is a prisoner of his own imagination - the monsters that his books made famous are real, and Stine protects his readers by keeping them locked up in their books. When Zach unintentionally unleashes the monsters from their manuscripts, they begin to terrorize the town, it's suddenly up to Stine, Zach, Hannah, and Zach's friend Champ (Ryan Lee) to get all of them back in the books where they belong before they destroy the city.
Jack Black and R. L. Stine
So, after seeing the Goosebumps trailer for the first time, I was psyched. Up until I saw Jack Black and my interest plummeted. When I think of Jack Black, my mind immediately goes to titles like Year One, Gulliver's Travels, and Mars Attacks. But he keeps giving me reasons not to dislike him, which is really annoying. He's good in Kung Fu Panda and Peter Jackson's King Kong. And now I can say he's good in Goosebumps. Black plays a fictional version of the actual author; little of what I know about Stine himself was incorporated into the fictional character. The two don't look remotely similar. But that's fine because Jack Black creates an effectively droll characterization of R. L. Stine, combining a pair of heavy-rimmed black glasses, Orson Wells-type literate tones and a spiteful vanity that makes Stephen King the bane of his existence.
Goosebumps features a huge number of monsters from the book series. I did my very best not to jump up and down in my seat excitedly pointing out ones I recognized. "Oh! It's the Werewolf of Fever Swamp! Yay! It's the Haunted Mask! Oh, it's Mud Monster! YES! They included Lawn Gnomes! The Lord High Executioner! Scarecrows! Mummy of Prince Khor-Ru! Pumpkinhead! Cuckoo Clock of Doom! And Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy!" I'll bet I could have been really annoying to sit next to. As a fan of the books, this catered to audiences who grew up reading the books; it was hugely nostalgic for me. I was disappointed that a few of my favorites was omitted such as Monster Blood or the Horrorland Horrors, The Beast from the East, or possibly the Barking Ghost. To be fair, there were 62 titles in the original Goosebumps book series and not all of them could be used or have screen time. I'm grateful that the movie didn't beat you over the head with what any given monster was and the title the book came from; that would have become irritating quickly and felt like overt advertisements for a 23 year old book series.
There were three monsters I didn't recognize at all. I had to look them up and it turns out they were taken from titles from some spin-off book series that were published after I had stopped reading them religiously. They were the only ones I couldn't identify. There were some fantastic shots of the monster ensemble that didn't last long enough for me to take it all in and appreciate the detail of. Sure, the shots were good and lasted an appropriate amount of time, but I wanted to just look at it and watch for characters I recognized. I guess I'll just have to get a copy of the movie to geek out over.
Not only did Goosebumps feature some above average camera work here and there, it boasted some pretty good special effects which I appreciated. Practical effects were used as often as possible. Monster suits, costumes, and make up were used instead of CGI animated creatures when it could be done, but even the digital creatures were well animated. Puppets were used to great advantage as well. Having Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy (the movie's main antagonist) as a digitally animated creature would not have worked as well. He's a puppet, so a puppet was used to get that natural puppet movement.
Goosebumps is rated PG, and even with it's scary veneer it's a comedy adventure suitable for kids. There are lots of laughs and exciting chases to enjoy. Parts of it might get a bit too spooky for kids under 7, but overall it's a lot of fun. I laughed a whole lot during the movie. With all the mismatched monsters roaming about, it's almost like a kid-friendly version of The Cabin in the Woods. It's a fast-paced, never-boring trip to a world where stories and imagination are powerful tools. And that sort of thing just might inspire kids to do the scariest thing of all: pick up a book.
Goosebumps doesn't particularly do anything original, but what it does do is remarkably fun! There are fun characters, an uneven story, great special effects, exciting monsters, some surprising emotional heft, a generous helping of humor, and several gags at the expense of Stephen King. This is a fun movie the whole family could enjoy, especially around Halloween time! I admit that I could be viewing this movie with rose-tinted nostalgia glasses, but I really enjoyed it. You don't need to have read the books to appreciate this movie, but you certainly will have a lot more fun if you have. This is worth seeing in theaters, and I plan on getting a copy of this myself; in part because it was a good, fun movie and because it was an amusing trip down memory lane. Make sure to be on the lookout for a cameo by the real R. L. Stine.

Did you read the Goosebumps books back in the day? Which book was your favorite? Comment below and tell me why!

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