By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Tis the season to be creepy and scared a little bit, but why should the adults have all the fun? With all of the dark and disturbing horror fare out there for the grownups, there’s not much out there for the kids to enjoy. Well, thankfully, Hollywood has an option for pre-teens and slightly younger. The second installment of the new Goosebumps franchise has arrived, just in time for Halloween and serves as a mostly harmless, but fun spooky offering for the kids to enjoy. Titled, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, this sequel could have been easily titled, “The Wrath of Slappy,” because it mostly focuses on Slappy the ventriloquist doll’s return and quest for power and vengeance on this world. In the mostly peaceful town of Wardenclyffe, two teen friends named Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris) attempt to start a small business hauling junk. When an anonymous client hires the boys to clean out the remnants of a vacant home, they discover that the home once belonged to horror author R.L. Stine, and find an old unpublished manuscript titled Haunted Halloween. Opening the manuscript releases the ventriloquist doll Slappy, who seems friendly and harmless at first. However, the mischievously wicked doll makes life problematic for both boys and Sonny’s family. Slappy eventually unleashes more evil and dangerous characters on Halloween night and it is up to Sonny, Sam, Sonny’s sister Sam (Madison Iseman), and author R.L. Stine (Jack Black) to save the world.
Based on some of the Goosebumps books by the real R.L. Stine, this latest chapter in the franchise offers kids and preteens some spooky fun without any extreme violence, disturbing imagery, or ugly messages to concern parents. Though the plot and story are rather simple, it is difficult for even grownups to not be somewhat charmed by the creativity and amusing humor that drives these movies and stories. Both Goosebumps movies are not extraordinary pieces of cinema, but that probably won’t matter to the kids enjoying them.
The cast seems to enjoy the material enough to deliver fun and committed performances. Jeremy Ray Taylor, who previously starred in the far more scarier movie adaptation of It, performs well as Sonny. Caleel Harris also gives a great turn as his best friend Sam. As Sonny’s sister Sarah, Madison Iseman gives solid and more mature performance. Wendy McLendon-Covey is quite lovable and funny as Sarah and Sonny’s often flustered mother Kathy. Once again Jack Black returns to reprise his dual roles as R.L. Stine and the voice of Slappy. Though Black mostly voices Slappy in this film, he portrays Stine in a more diminished role. The film also features some funny and entertaining appearances by Ken Jeong and Chris Parnell.
Now I know some parents might find these Goosebumps movies uninteresting and forgettable, but their children will definitely want to see and enjoy them. Still, the pickings seem to be rather slim this year when it comes to fun and benign Halloween-themed movies for younger audiences. This movie will definitely fill that void and is actually not so bad to sit through. I, myself, do not have any children of my own, but had no regrets in opting to review this movie not even geared for my demographic. I mean; it is either this film or something that is way too mature for the kids that will possibly give them nightmares or raise awkward questions that parents aren’t quite ready to answer. In that regard, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is certainly a much safer bet.