“Monster House” is a cheerful, scary surprise
Flying well below the radar of the summer blockbusters, “Monster House” is a little gem of a movie that will hopefully not go unnoticed. Given its peculiar target audience, its out-of-season theme, and imposing cinematic competition, it almost appears that Executive Producers Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis wanted it to fail. But given that duo’s incredible track record of success, it would have been wise to suspect they had something up their sleeve.
Did they ever.
“Monster House” is unique in that it is a motion-capture (like “The Polar Express”) scary film best suited for pre-teens. Its fear factor carefully straddles the line between chilling intensity and make-believe, and features kids that exude a believable combination of wit and terrified anxiety.
Across the street from DJ’s (Mitchell Musso) house, well in view of the telescope he uses to monitor and document the unusual goings on, is the spooky house of ol’ crabapple Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi). Everything from kid’s tricycles, to basketballs and kites is being swallowed up when they land anywhere near the place.
DJ’s best buddy Chowder (Sam Lerner) is a jolly prankster who’s more interested in what the two will cook up for Halloween, which is just around the corner.
With his parents (Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara) gone overnight to a convention, DJ is being “babysat” by slacker girl Zee (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her hard-rocking boyfriend Bones (Jason Lee). After the boys get the scare of their life, they go to the rescue of pig-tailed door-to-door candy sales queen Jenny, who is about to become the possessed house’s next victim.
Everything works just right in this refreshingly well-written, energetic treasure. The chemistry between the three kids is amazingly tangible for an animated film– something of which the Harry Potter creators should take note.
Summer wouldn’t appear to be the right time to release a film like this, but maybe that was the strategy all along. Give young audiences a surprise Treat instead of a raunchy Trick that would make parents cringe. True, “Monster House’s” intensity earns it a PG rating, so it won’t be appropriate for all children. And it contains some mild innuendo that is usually more witty than crude, but it is positively innocent compared to the “Shrek” films.
All this fun wrapped in delightful, sparkling animation gives “Monster House” a more human-like quality. Newfangled technology providing old-fashioned frights. Maybe these folks are on to something.
Rated PG for scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor and brief language.