Zombos Says: Fair
Monster House is a disappointment.
It seems like a natural Halloween treat; take the decrepit old "haunted" house every small town has, toss in the decrepit, loony old hermit--that every small town has--to live in the house, then play on all our childhood fears by making the house a monster that eats people, gobbles them up when they step on the lawn or get too close. But this almost goody-bag treat quickly turns into an out-of-candy trick itching for a few eggs tossed its way. The animation lacks whimsy, charm, and style in its characters as directed by Gil Kenan. From the too-realistic, nasty Goth baby-sitter with the dull-witted, drugged-out boyfriend, Bones, to the fat kid sidekick, Chowder, the tone of the story is humorless and the dialog lacks wit. Instead of naive, carefree chat between friends, we listen to recycled potty jokes, the highlight of which is pee in soda pop bottles. The writers apparently forgot their own childhoods when bringing Chowder, DJ and Jenny to life.
The use of 3D is the only interesting aspect of the movie, although the computerized art direction, while not as lifeless as the dead-eyed, stiff characters in Polar Express, is not as lively as much 2D can be. The kids appear too real in their motions and lose the stylized energetic movements that are not possible in live-action, leaving their mannerisms awkward and stilted. They appear to move in reality-time, not animation-time, and become less endearing because they lack style. The 3D effects lend themselves best to the interiors of the house, especially when it chows down.
In the opening, Autumn leaves gambole around a little girl as she peddles her bike along the sidewalk, innocently close to the ominous house. Her fun turns from bright to dark as old Mr. Nebbercracker comes running out to yell at her and take away her bike. Drawn with malice is the best way I can describe him. He is loud, shrill, mean, and frightening in a way not suited for a fun-filled animated scare. From this point onward, the movie becomes a humorless and vacuous story, unfolding but not emotionally involving.
DJ's parents leave him alone with the nasty babysitter and her boyfriend, who has way too much adult misbehavior on his mind. Soon the house begins to claim non-believing victims after Nebbercracker is stricken down by a heated encounter with DJ. DJ, along with his red-caped, obnoxious friend Chowder, manage to save Jenny, a hip, smart-talking, girl scout selling cookies from becoming an edible treat herself.
Looking for answers to the house's bizarre behavior, DJ, Chowder, and Jenny go to the local pizza delivering, video game whiz teenager. Playing the character to stereotype, the comic book reading, video game junkie geek is not funny. I'm surprised they didn't toss in personal hygiene jokes here.
An encounter with the local sheriff, and an ill-conceived Stepin Fetchit character approach to the deputy, is again, devoid of humor and charm, and the movie continues with more humorless character encounters until Halloween day. The use of metal garbage cans by DJ, Jenny, and Chowder to sneak up on the house, in an attempt to trick it into eating something that would not agree with it, is oddly conceived, as apparently the pails have no bottoms. Who uses metal garbage cans with no bottoms to hold garbage? Perhaps there's a deleted scene where DJ whipped out his dad's acetylene torch in an A-Team inspired preparation for the assault?
Amazingly, all this monster house people-gobbling takes place in a starkly quiet neighborhood. Even on Halloween night, in an over-the-top climax between the house and the kids, the roars, screams, and explosions, do not bring out the neighbors. In a ludicrous showdown, Chowder suddenly develops heavy machinery skills that would normally take the rest of us weeks to get down pat, and fends off the now mobile monster home while his friends muck around with dynamite. I missed the class on dynamite handling in my grammar school. After all this, in an lifeless flashback scene, we learn the reason why the house is so disagreeably hungry. There is no moral message, no moment of pathos to transcend the mundane. Just a freaky reason.
As Chowder yells to the house during the climax, "You ain't nothing; not a shack, not an outhouse," I must agree with him and add "you ain't fun."
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.