Thursday, October 22, 2015

'Goosebumps' Is A Fun Wink And Nod For Children of the 90s

As a child of the 90s, one of my favorite memories that didn't involve Toonami and Dunkaroos (don’t judge me) was going to the library and checking out as many books as I could –– or at least until my mom told me to stop. One of the first book series I remember coming into contact with was R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps. For those who do not know, Goosebumps was a horror anthology series for kids that focused on a different monster/plot within each story. They were the first introduction of things that go bump in the night and the concept of horror for many children. Proving to make a film adaptation of the series would be difficult but not impossible. So hiring the guy who did Gulliver’s Travels and its star should work... right?

When you find out the director of this is making the Goosebumps movie.

The film focuses on Zach (Dylan Minnette), who has just moved from New York City to Madison, Delaware for his mom's new job (played by Amy Ryan). Once there, Zach meets his new neighbor, Hannah (Odeya Rush), an adventurous spirit who lives with her curmudgeonly father, R.L. Stine (Jack Black). One night, Zach hears a noise coming from the Stine home. He and his new friend Champ (Ryan Lee) go in to investigate. After entering the Stine home, the two boys come across his study where they discover all of his Goosebumps manuscripts locked away. After accidentally opening one, the Abominable Snowman comes out through the pages and they discover quite quickly that the monsters in the Goosebumps books are real, and only the books being locked up can keep them at bay. Stine and the kids later discover that Slappy the Dummy (voiced by Black) has also gotten loose and is planning to unleash every single monster upon Madison. It’s up to Stine and the kids to stop Slappy and his army before it’s too late.

With most films that tend to be based off a beloved property, I went into this film with a lot of skepticism. Would the writers try to modernize the stories and include lame references? Or would they be able to pay homage to their source material in a clever and inventive way?

Thankfully, Goosebumps happened to fall into the latter category. This is the most pleasantly surprising film I have seen all year, thanks not only to the charismatic performances but also because the film pays homage to the source material while also cleverly satirizing it. The three main leads are all incredibly fun to watch and have great chemistry together. Minnette is extremely likable and funny, as Zach is able to be more sarcastic than initially expected. He also has great chemistry with Rush, and the two’s relationship feels natural and authentic. What I like the most about this character is his brief backstory. We learn Zach’s father died in the past year but how exactly, we never find out. It is simply presented to the audience and the filmmakers don't linger and drag it out but move onto the plot itself. It was a refreshing way to see exposition laid out even though I would have liked to have known how he passed.

While many comedic sidekicks in other films tend to fall on the irritating side, Lee is hilarious as Champ. He provides the perfect amount of comic relief without bordering into straight on annoying territory. Champ can best be compared to 80's sidekicks such as Chunk from The Goonies. He captures the spirit and the humor of these classic sidekicks.

Then there’s Black, portraying a fictionalized version of Stine as well as providing the voice of Slappy. Whoever decided to cast Black as Stine and Slappy was ingenious as he gets to play him as curmudgeonly and sinister, with a dash of cynical added into the mix, and it is obvious that Black is having a blast in the role. The opening scene is hysterical, as Black is just hamming it up having a ball. His Slappy, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast. Slappy is a small demon with serious daddy issues. Black voices him with menacing relish, reminiscent of Mark Hamill's Joker and he brings one of the series’ biggest monsters to scene-stealing life.

The idea to not adapt a single Goosebumps story, but rather use all of them is what makes the film work. Similar to The LEGO Movie, Goosebumps pays tribute to its legacy through celebration. Using a variety of characters we know to populate the film feels like a great idea. I spent a good chunk of the movie looking to see which favorite monster from the books would appear.

This film feels like a throwback to 80s kids' horror movies, particularly Monster Squad. It’s scary for kids, yet at the same time, winks at itself long enough where it says, “Guys, we know this is your childhood and that you love it so much. We’re just going to poke a little fun at it.” There’s a self-referential sense that makes it incredibly charming and entertaining. There are plenty of references and inside jokes to the series’ legacy, including a rather subtle one at Shivers the 99 cent knockoff version.

Great title. A+

While not entirely perfect –– with the father’s death being brushed over and focusing more on monster set pieces –– Goosebumps does not stop it from being an absolute blast from start to finish. While it looks as if it’s going to be another cash grab, it surprises by being a fun, enjoyable adventure with charming leads and a well-paced story. It has its flaws, of course, but the film is a perfect treat for families this Halloween season.



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