Starring: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush
Directed by: Rob Letterman (“Monsters vs. Aliens”)
Written by: Darren Lemke (“Shrek Forever After”)
“Goosebumps” books and the Robin Williams movie “Jumanji” are two memories I have of youth in the ‘90s. Not me, mind you; I was a teenage nerd more into Space Ghost and “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” but the younger people that I’ve come to know over the years who embraced those things are apparently the ones who have made BuzzFeed and Jimmy Fallon who they are today, with their brightly-colored ‘90s nostalgia powering the internet away from my beloved absurd comedy. But I digress. We’re here to talk about the film adaptation of R.L. Stine’s kid-targeted horror books and how big a debt it owes to “Jumanji,” since it, too, is full of decently-realized CGI creations that rampage through a city while a somewhat faded comedy superstar looks to reign in the chaos. This isn’t high praise, but the formula will likely turn the movie into a fondly-remembered experience for any kids in the crowd.
After moving to a new house in a new town (of course), Zach (Dylan Minnette) struggles to fit in at his new school. Making things more difficult in the popularity department is his mom (Amy Ryan) being the school’s new vice principal. As luck would have it, though, Zach meets a cute girl next door in Hannah (Odeya Rush), who takes him on a nighttime adventure into an abandoned amusement park. Not amused, however, is Hannah’s mysterious recluse father (Jack Black), who forbids Zach from seeing Hannah again. When Zach later sees what seems to be her father abusing her, Zach calls the police on Hannah’s father. Finding nothing unusual, Zach and his new friend Champ (Ryan Lee) break into the house to rescue Hannah, only to find out her dad is hiding a spooky secret: he’s horror author R.L. Stine and all of the monsters he’s conjured up on the page over the years are in fact real, and they’re itching to escape into the real world.
Though frenetic and paper-thin at times, “Goosebumps” comes alive when the monsters do. From a ventriloquists’ dummy named Slappy (also voiced by Black) to an army of garden gnomes to a levitating poodle, the creepy creations are more fun than most anything the generically bland Minnette and the the cute-but-underwritten Rush turn in. Black handles himself fine as a fictionalized version of R.L. Stine, though the magic behind the story – why the things Stine writes come to life – is so woefully under explained it’s basically a giant shrug. Still, though, the movie has enough charm when the various creatures are onscreen with Danny Elfman’s Halloween-ready soundtrack bouncing along in the background to power past the (goose)bumps in the story.