It seems Jack Black has finally found his niche –PG rated kids movies. They’re the only place where his more ridiculous facial expressions can blend in seamlessly and not disrupt the whole of the film. Yet even then, Jack Black seems rather subdued in this film as compared to other roles of his, and the movie is all the better for it. His more understated humor and quick timing with his jokes really make up the humor of the film here alongside the quirks of his eyebrows and the small widening of his eyes. He makes the movie fun, and he brings the only real sense of urgency to the plot that it needs.
The premise is nothing surprising, and the movie doesn’t try to subvert any kinds of tropes –if anything it plays into them deeply. The nerd who is shunned at school saves the popular girl and gets his first kiss with her, the hero boy and hero girl obviously fall in love, the hero boy is almost constantly saving the hero girl from distress –you get the idea. No new territory really being explored here.
But that doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable. Filled with wonderful jokes and humor as well as a handful of little scares, the film caters well to the wide audience it has to answer to —the new kids reading the books now, and the older kids like myself who were there for the sweet, sweet nostalgia. I had a good time pointing out some of my favorite monsters, as the film plays out a bit like the ending scene to The Cabin in the Woods with all the monsters coming out in droves. There are zombies, werewolves, giant praying mantis’, and of course our favorite –Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy. He’s back, and loaded with puns (there’s a whole scene of him just rattling off puns and it’s wonderful).
The tension in the plot is only found in the moments when we wonder whether or not R.L. Stine (Jack Black) will be able to fix this problem. The monsters, having been released from their books, have now burned their tombs so that they cannot return, and it is up to Stine to write a whole new story in order to contain them –that is, before the monsters kill him. All other subplots are easily figured out before they even become a true issue, so it’s easy to kind of forget it or ignore it in the end. There are also subplots that seem to only pop up in times of characters needing encouragement. The main character is given a tragic backstory about his father dying, but he hardly seems all that affected by it throughout the film. Really, he doesn’t seem to grow at all. But we can almost forgive the movie for this with how much fun it is to watch him get chased around from place to place by horrifying ghouls and ghosts.
Slappy leads the charge against his creator in this, delightfully evil and menacing in every way. The film truly brings to life the horrifying aspects of these monsters that made the Goosebumps books so thrilling in the first place. And though the CGI can be spotty at times (the Abominable Monster of Pasadena is almost cartoonish at times), it can also be rather extraordinary. I found myself thoroughly pleased with the animation on the topiary garden gnomes, picking out each crack in their stone faces when they’re facial expressions changed. The filmmakers clearly just used a regular old dummy for some of the shots with Slappy too –something I greatly appreciated. Sometimes, practical effects are the best effects in the end. Bring it all together, and the movie runs rather smoothly.
So, if you’re looking for a movie to just have fun watching and not think too hard about, Goosebumps is a great way to spend a Friday night. Just sit back, relax, and get ready, because you’re in for a scare.
Written by Sara Gadilauskas