Rob Letterman’s Goosebumps brings the children’s horror novels to life -literally- as the creatures created by R.L. Stine (Jack Black) leap off the page to terrorise an unsuspecting town.
When I first heard what the premise of this film would be I wasn’t at all optimistic. It seems like the sort of low rent nonsense that Jack Black often associates himself and that there was no way it could turn into anything interesting but I’m glad I was wrong.
This film has a lot of inspiration from Jumanji to Cabin in the Woods. Both films involve throwing the kitchen sink at the viewer and hoping something entertaining will happen and this film is really no different. Considering how many Goosebumps books there are this was probably the best way to adapt it short of having an endless series of films each with a different subject matter.
Having R.L. Stine be a character in the film was a good idea that worked well. Jack Black brings his particular brand of goofiness to the performance and it completely fits the light tone this is going for. He manages to be creepy without being unsettling and his delivery of even the most benign lines always manages to be entertaining.
Surprisingly there is some real effort put into exploring what caused R.L. Stine to write the books in the first place. Most of it likely won’t be true but considering the real name is used then I wonder how much inspiration will be taken from his real life. The idea of him creating so many monsters as a reaction from being isolated as a child is an interesting one and is actually fairly well explored. I especially liked how Slappy the Dummy (voiced by Black himself) is played as the personification of Stine’s darker desires and is used as a mirror image of him at various points. It was so interesting that I wanted the film to go into more detail and explore this relationship rather than return to the main story.
Not that the main story was bad, it was actually very good. Everything was well paced and it remained exciting throughout without being overly terrifying even for younger viewers. The narrative doesn’t get bogged down with exposition and never leaves it too long without a set piece so it gets top marks on keeping the attention of the viewer. I would have preferred more time be spent on the more character driven moments as they were more interesting than the onslaught of monsters but there was enough of both to keep me entertained and stop the whole thing feeling like a thoughtless cash in.
The character of Zach (Dylan Minnette) on paper seems like your typical teenage protagonist with his love interest Hannah (Odeya Rush) being along the same lines but the actors manage to inject enough personality into these characters to elevate them slightly above the standard fare. They have really good chemistry and the performances are believable with some relatively sharp comic timing. They aren’t offensive to watch and I found myself rooting for them within the story. The hanger on, Champ (Ryan Lee) could have been done without as he was supposed to be the standard comic relief but was just irritating throughout. I think the film would have been stronger without him.
Amy Ryan is sadly underused as Zach’s mother Gale and Ken Marino fares even worse as Coach Carr. These characters could easily have been featured more and given the film even more laughs. They are an example of somewhere this film could have used some room to breathe. Jillian Bell as Gale’s sister Lorraine could have been cut entirely though. She functioned as something of an adult comic relief but came across as superfluous.
I was also really impressed with Jack Black’s vocal performance as Slappy. It reminded me a lot of Mark Hamill’s iconic Joker portrayal which completely made sense for that character. It wasn’t a blatant knockoff by any means and came across as more of a respectful homage.
On the whole the CGI works really well. There are some dodgy effects but that is to be expected when there are so many monsters on screen at one time. Notable highlights including an abominable snowman attack the the eerily realistic look of Slappy who serves as the main antagonist so naturally is given among the most attention. The Garden Gnomes look really good and the giant Preying Mantis is impressive. Nothing looks so unbelievable that it lifted me out of the film entirely.
Goosebumps isn’t high art by any stretch but I am impressed at the effort that seems to have been put into this. The people involved have taken their task seriously and managed to deliver something that is entertaining with a certain amount of depth just beneath the surface to set it apart from other family films. It’s a really good time at the movies and you could certainly do a lot worse.
• performances that add depth to the characters
• Jack Black’s ability to deliver a fun performance
• perfectly serviceable CGI
• an interesting backstory that isn’t properly explored
• some annoying extraneous characters