2006, PG, 91 min. Directed by Gil Kenan. Voices by Steve Buscemi, Michael Musso, Nick Cannon, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jon Heder, Kevin James, Jason Lee, Sam Lerner, Spencer Locke, Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 21, 2006
Equal parts Ray Bradbury and rickety carnival spook show, this animated tale of a carnivorous, haunted house and the band of neighborhood kids who decide to put it out of commission feels maddeningly unfinished, as though it were tinkered with in postproduction, rejiggered unnecessarily, and finally let loose during the entirely inappropriate summer months, when, as any kid worth his or her pile of Fangorias (or any adult worth his or her collection of Famous Monsters of Filmland) could tell you, it ought to be arriving on All Hallows Eve. Bad timing aside, the story by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab (plus Pamela Pettler) – the writing team behind the cult Jack Black/Owen Wilson pilot Heat Vision and Jack – is a wispy thing that, surprisingly, given its Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis producerial pedigree fails to adequately evoke the sheer kidhood magic of the Halloween season. It's set on October 30, sure, but the whole of it never quite jells, and like the old trick-or-treat standby, candy corn, it leaves you wishing for so much more of everything else. After a brilliant opening sequence that references Zemeckis' own Forrest Gump by way of Roald Dahl, we're introduced to DJ (Musso), an ordinary 12-year-old transitioning from being a Halloween fanatic to a teen with precious little time left on his internal gosh-wow, sense-of-wonder clock. Not so his pal Chowder (Lerner), who pines for the kiss of Hershey year-round and still has a firm grasp of what really matters in life, namely steering clear of neighborhood crank Mr. Nebbercracker (Buscemi) while basking in rubber- fright-masked anticipation of the best night of the year. When Nebbercracker suffers a heart attack in the midst of haranguing the trespassing DJ, after which the old man's dilapidated homestead literally attempts to eat the poor kid, the pair join forces with Alpha-girl prepster Jenny (Locke) to combat this architecturally-unsound holiday scourge. Monster House's animation is its best aspect, working up a blood red and purpley color palette that fairly screams "Boo!" at you, but even the genuinely creepy sight of this monstrous manse uprooting itself from its foundation and chasing the trio down the block can't make up for the confused tone of the script, which is seemingly pitched at neither youngsters nor adults but at some indefinable horror-kid within. That said, those who came of age in an era when only hobos and ballerinas were seen trick-or-treating before sunset will still get a charge out of Monster House's retro appeal. Those chaperoned by mom and dad, however, will most likely wonder what all the fuss was about.