For most of the 1990s R. L. Stine had the market for scary children’s literature. The current cultural preoccupation with the 1990s and the Halloween season make this a perfect time to revisit the Goosebumps book series and all of the characters it birthed. What better way to do this than a fun big-budget film?
Goosebumps begins with a family moving to a new town. A year after his father’s death, Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mom (Amy Ryan) leave New York City for Madison, Delaware. In typical fashion Zach becomes quick friends with the overly confident weirdo at school, Champ (Ryan Lee) and spies on a cute girl his age in the house next door. Hannah (Odeya Rush) is friendly and spontaneous, but her overbearing father (Jack Black) does not want Zach hanging around his daughter. Not at all.
After a misunderstanding with Hannah inspires Zach and Champ to heroically break into her house, they discover a peculiar library. The study in the house is filled with original Goosebumps manuscripts. Champ, being a fan of Stine’s books, recognizes the handwritten titles. Unlike your typical library each of these books is locked. To get the plot moving Zach unlocks a book and unleashes a monster. From each of these books the monsters within will actually materialize and unleash its own version of chaos. The first monster, the abominable snowman, stands taller than the ceiling of the library, but is contained fairly quickly with minimal structural damage. These monsters can be sucked back into their respective book and all is well. But when Slappy the evil ventriloquist doll gets free, he releases all of the Goosebumps monsters, and destroys the books. The rest of the film is dedicated to making a plan, recapturing all of the monsters, and saving the small hamlet in Delaware.
The plot to Goosebumps is one we have seen many times over. Just like Jumanji, and Gremlins before that, we are familiar with watching an innocent town become overrun with menacing but slightly adorable creatures. Though they are destructive and malicious, they are not murderous. Goosebumps still keeps all of the violence tame to not scare the young audience.
Goosebumps also underutilizes its stellar cast. Amy Ryan does her best to play the supportive but out-of-touch mom, but is never given much to do. Jillian Bell, as Zach’s aunt, has more quirks to play up, but could have done much more. And worst of all is Ken Marino in a throwaway role as a high school coach. All of these people are capable of so much more than is asked of them.
One actor who is appreciated and on-display is Jack Black. His performance as Hannah’s dad hits the perfect tone. He can switch from overly protective father to slightly silly on a hairpin without ever overstepping the bounds of the character. For an actor who is not usually lauded for restraint, Black brings the best of himself into the role, but still manages to disappear into the character.
The creature design in Goosebumps is also excellent. Most of the monsters are CGI, with a few practical effects mixed in too. They never look completely realistic, but seeing the horde of monsters all together is a visual feast and all of the children in the theater really loved it.
Goosebumps is a really fun film. It has a good mix of nostalgia for Stine’s classic book series and excitement on-screen. The bibliophile in me always loves when a children’s film shows kids how great reading can be, and this helps bring some of that enthusiasm to the screen.
Director: Rob Letterman
Film Length: 98 minutes
Release Date: October 16, 2015
Distributor: Columbia Pictures