By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
I have never read any of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books nor have I ever seen the television series, based on those novels, which aired during the late 1990s. I do recall that the TV series actually looked rather creepy for children’s programming, but I never bothered to take the time to watch it. Still, going into the screening for the film adaptation, I was rather bewildered by the obvious comedic take on the material when I happened to see a trailer for the movie. I had a similar feeling when I first heard that the film adaptation of 21 Jump Street would actually be an action/comedy movie. As the movie ran, my mixed feelings about the material subsided and I actually enjoyed the amusing family-friendly entertainment that it has to offer. I can’t honestly say that die-hard fans of the books and series will love it, but they will probably have a better sense of the jokes and story references than I did during my first viewing.
Goosebumps the movie, stars Jack Black as a fictional version of author R.L. Stine, a quiet and somewhat reclusive person who lives with his daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush) in a small town in Delaware. A teenager named Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his widowed mother Gale (Amy Ryan) move into the house next door to the Stines. Much to the dismay of of R.L., Zach and Hannah become smitten with one another. Things get complicated and rather messy when Zach accidentally releases the horror locked up within Stine’s magical books, and monsters attack the usually quiet town.
Writers Darren Lemke, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski and director Rob Letterman take characters and story elements from the real R.L. Stine’s young adult horror novels and come up with a fun, though not exactly original story. The horror does seem rather toned down here in comparison to the reputation of the novels and TV series. Nevertheless, this movie adaptation actually makes for fun and harmless family entertainment that should get kids in the mood for Halloween.
The movie’s humor consists of good and mediocre physical comedy and witty reference to the world of Stine and other related subjects of horror pop culture. As far as the fright factor is concerned, I’m thinking children below the age of nine might actually get scared by the mostly CGI monsters, ghosts, creatures, etc. I personally didn’t find the material all that scary; however, a maniacal ventriloquist dummy named Slappy did succeed in giving me chills during his introduction.
The film features a great cast in addition to Jack Black, who gives an awesomely theatrical performance as the wickedly imaginative R.L. Stine. Dylan Minnette brings a charming, but slightly awkward, confidence to the Zach character. The adorable Odeya Rush has the right mixture of spunk and charisma for Hanna Stine. Of the teens, the one kid who steals his scenes and provides a lot of the comic relief in the film is Ryan Lee who stars as Zach’s new buddy Champ. Previously, Lee has had some memorable roles in Super 8 and This is 40. He is absolute hilarious here and certainly has a promising comedic career ahead.
The material never gets too risque for children, but as I previously stated, parents might want to exercise some caution if their children are easily scared. The children in the audience at my screening seemed to really enjoy the film and reacted accordingly to all the spooky parts, the thrilling action, and amusing comedy. I strongly recommend Goosebumps for some fun family entertainment at the cinema.