Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 31 min.
Release Date: July 21st, 2006 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Gil Kenan Actors: Mitchel Musso, Steve Buscemi, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, Sam Lerner, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, Kevin James, Spencer Locke, Jon Heder, Kathleen Turner
few days before Halloween, DJ (Mitchel Musso) becomes obsessed with spying on the disheveled and crumbling house that resides across the street from him, always carefully safeguarded by the crotchety Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi). Strange and disquieting things happen to the unfortunate souls who cross Nebbercracker’s lawn, and DJ, accompanied by his unwilling friend Chowder (Sam Lerner), are out to discover the calamitous secrets that lie within the haunted dwelling. Along the way, they encounter Jenny (Spencer Locke), a smart, cute, and crafty Halloween candy seller, who reluctantly helps them devise an end to the possessed residence.
After DJ believes he’s accidentally killed the decrepit Nebbercracker, the threesome realize they must stop the beastly house from reaping vengeance on this year’s crop of trick-or-treaters. Of course, convincing others that they’re not making it all up proves to be a huge conflict of its own. The babysitter, Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal), as well as local cops Lister (Nick Cannon) and Landers (Kevin James), are just a few of the quirky characters who unintentionally interfere with DJ’s ghost-busting misadventures.
The trio of heroes is well voiced and interesting to watch, especially thanks to the whimsical, prepubescent love triangle coyly rooted into the scenario. A notably outstanding job on Chowder’s part makes for some hilarious and realistic physical comedy, while supporting characters such as Skull (Jon Heder), a videogame guru and pizza delivery guy sure to know how to destroy the ominous building, add a few scenes of laugh-out-loud hilarity. And the anthropomorphized Monster House itself is portrayed frighteningly and magnificently, personifying human kinesics without ever uttering a word.
The plot is unique, but plays out strongly only at the beginning. Toward the conclusion, it begins to falter and shift into something far more macabre than its family-friendly tone can support. Fortunately, the script is well-written and contains enough tactful humor that accompanying parents won’t tire easily. Visually, the film is stunning, with its dark and moody haunted house atmosphere perfectly contrasting the bright, shining, outdoor neighborhood street. The character modeling isn’t bad (though not particularly innovative), while the animation itself is first-rate. Since animating human characters (even those that are caricatures) is easily the most difficult task, it comes as a refreshing relief from the horde of recent woodland-animal CG films that “Monster House” attempts something a bit more daring. Although not perfect, the technical defects are permissible, offering up enough uncannily realistic mannerisms – especially in Chowder – to make up for its faults. Detailed, eye-catching textures also increase the photorealism of the animated environment.
For reasons unknown, Sony Pictures decided to release this perfectly Halloween-themed children’s film in the middle of June. It’s undoubtedly more entertaining than some of the animated projects released earlier in the summer (such as “Over the Hedge”), but will likely fall short in comparison to the higher production values of Pixar’s “Cars” (though not necessarily its storytelling). And with its PG rating, it just might be a bit too startling for the very young, especially with the typical, immature scare tactics generously employed throughout.
– Mike Massie