Audiences can be hard to please, especially when a beloved children’s book series is adapted to the big screen. “Goosebumps,” however, manages to engage and delight a new audience while satisfying the nostalgic hunger of fans of the original book series. With a mix of childish, goofy antics and subtle adult humor, “Goosebumps” delivers scares in an endearing and heartwarming package of campy fun.
From “Shark Tale” to “Monsters vs. Aliens,” director Rob Letterman has experience crafting clever children’s films. Letterman knows how to hit his demographic and provide a lightweight yet exhilarating ride for his viewers. In addition, Letterman has worked with Jack Black on three films (including “Goosebumps”), and Black’s performance is what elevates this flick from good to great. Black very loosely portrays R.L. Stine (the author of the “Goosebumps” books) and does so in a spectacular caricature full of witticisms and sarcastic remarks.
The movie is self-referential, as the “Goosebumps” books themselves exist within the universe of the film. This creates an interesting dynamic between the audience and the characters onscreen, as both are equally aware of the lore behind each creature. This dynamic also allows there to be myriad monsters on display — nearly the entire Stein monster canon makes an appearance.
“Goosebumps” balances its juvenile tendencies with a cynical, mature edge. The opening five minutes of the film include jokes that reference North Korea, Guantanamo Bay and Detroit, and are clearly geared toward an older audience. Older viewers will also appreciate the self-referential horror cliches and references to films such as “Night of the Living Dead” and “The Shining.” The sophistication of these tropes, however, quickly gives way to the charm that a “Goosebumps” film should have. The portrayal of what is supposed to be normal, everyday life is one that would resonate with a middle schooler, complete with the overprotective mom, the embarrassingly brash aunt, the cute girl next door and the comically incompetent cops.
The world of “Goosebumps” is multifaceted in its juvenile scope. The music plays a major role in dictating the mood and feel of the action, cueing the audience with a cacophony of pianos and violins. There was no subtlety to be had, as the soft piano and guitar crescendo at the most heartwarming of moments, while the violins screech to notify the audience that danger is approaching. The entire plot of the film can be deciphered by simply listening.
But what is “Goosebumps” without the scary monsters? Not a whole lot. The CGI is crisp, and the monsters look vibrant and colorful but not too realistic. The aesthetic is childish and intentionally cartoonish, as anything more realistic would surpass excitement and enter into traumatization. The animation department was able to balance the realism that audiences expect with the silly nature of the original series. For instance, the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena chooses to snack on delicious candy bars rather than terrorize the town. The zombies and mummies could have been pulled straight from an episode of “Scooby Doo,” and the exaggerated reactions of the adults within the film highlight the ridiculous nature of the animations.
There are some legitimately frightening moments in the film, as the dummy character Slappy (voiced also by Black) has sinister qualities and unnervingly jagged movements. Akin to that in a legitimate horror film, a particular scene involving Slappy and funhouse mirrors is frightening for the whole audience. While the plot may not be the most feasible or realistic, the moody lighting and suspenseful soundtrack will enthrall audiences and provide some authentic scares.
True to “Goosebumps” form, the movie includes a twist and a message. The twist will not be disclosed in this review, but the message is more substantial than one might expect: It does not matter where people come from but rather how they treat others. Parents will be pleased with the conclusion, and children will be delighted to see the world of “Goosebumps” brought to life. “Goosebumps” is the perfect homage to the series and brings fresh material to the table.
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