“Viewer beware, you’re in for a scare!”
It’s easy to be a book snob. It’s easy to tell children which books are good to read and which books are bad to read. What constitutes a bad book for children? If it inspires just one child’s imagination, gives them fears and feels in equal measure, then surely a book can’t be bad? I’ve read Wilde, Dickens and both Poe. But I’ve also read Rowling, Wilson and Stein. Those six authors, along with countless authors, formulated my literary past and thus set the foundations for books to be read in the present and the future. J.K.Rowling may have figuratively taken me to Hogwarts and made me lament not receiving my letter when I was 11 (obviously during that period the ministry of magic was busy with other matters…), but it was R.L Stein that gave me a taste for ghouls, goblins and gore. Watching ‘Goosebumps’ felt like a risk, either prompting rage from my inner adolescent or transformative nostalgia. I’m very happy to report it’s the latter. Through a blend of live-action and animation the film manages to capture the goosebump-inducing fear of the books whilst also being rather light-hearted and funny.
A year after his dad has died, Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) and his vice-principal mother (Amy Ryan) move from New York to Madison, Delware. Though frustrated at his new small-town surroundings he knows that his mother’s new job will good for her, and the change in scenery may be good for both of them. When moving in, and having a box fall apart on him, he meets his new home-schooled neighbour (Odeya Rush). But their brief introduction is halted by Hannah’s grumpy and rather scary father, a man who may or may not be R.L. Stein (Jack Black). Hannah manages to sneak out and spend a day with Zach, but upon getting caught by her father she is punished. When Zach goes to rescue her, bringing along loveable loser sidekick (Ryan Lee), he stumbles across a bookshelf filled with what appear to be manuscripts for every Goosebumps story every written. However, after opening the manuscript of ‘The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena’ [side note: it is in my top ten Goosebumps] the Abominable Snowman itself comes out of the book. After a series of exciting events, manufactured by the Dummy of ‘Night of the Living Dummy [side note: definite top five contender] all of the manuscripts are opened, bringing all the monsters that Stein has ever written to live and bringing havoc among their town. Stein, Zach, Hannah and Champ must get all of them back in their books, where they belong. But things won’t be easy, and not everything is as it appears…
I really like this movie for numerous reasons, and in fact have a rather big soft spot for it. First of all, it brings all the monsters that once haunted my imagination to life. During the big crowd sequences I desperately searched the crowd for the familiar faces of the guests who overstayed their welcome in my nightmares. Going back to my opening point, I think it’s important that child can read books that scare them, and then show them how to defeat these fears. For children, and adults of a nervous disposition, this film does have rather spooky moments. There are one or two jumpy moments, and few monsters that are rather unsettling, but these are well contained moments and are more fun than fearful.
This leads me onto my second point, how surprisingly funny the film is. There are jokes for the children, and then there are jokes that will go over their heads and will crack up the adults in the audience. My three personal favourite jokes, which led to the emittance of loud laughter from many at the screening I attended, were a gag about the suffix –phile, a discussion about Stein verses Stephen King and a joke about domestic sales of books. Those three jokes (which I have intentionally poorly paraphrased) were well written, as are many others within the film.
The characterisation is good, with each character being more than likeable. In quite a nice shift, Hannah is the braver one whereas Zach and Champ are both rather jumpy in comparison. The animation is well-placed, never jarring with how it fits into the live-action, which is rather laudable. The music is never interfering, subtlety and successfully building the tension and fear. The pacing is also good, the 1hr 40mins never dragging and filled with more than enough twists and turns. This film is what family cinema should be. It shouldn’t patronise the younger members of the audience, or pander the humour towards them. It should engage them, spook them a little and excite them, just as Stein’s books did for me all those years ago.
If you’re looking for a light-hearted movie with a bit of bite, or something to entertain your children that won’t melt your brain, this is it. A very pleasant surprise.