R.L. Stine’s beloved book series is on the big screen thanks to Scholastic and Sony Pictures Animation (the folks behind the live action Smurf movies). It’s committed to being a ball of fun and isn’t fussed about reaching out to the Gen X-ers that rushed to Jurassic World. It’s just determined to be its own thing.
What a breath of fresh air.
There’s a lot of really strong elements to the film and it’s hard to choose where to begin. The script is smart and looks like it took the extra time to make it gel cohesively. It’s confident in its source material and doesn’t try and overcomplicate things with a sprawling ensemble or C/D/E plots that will pay off five movies down the line. Somebody at Sony finally got the memo that it is impossible to build a franchise unless the first movie works (see: The Mortal Instruments, Vampire Academy).
The plot follows every Goosebumps monster ever being released from a set of magical books after the new kid in town develops a crush on the author’s daughter. The author turns out to be a fictionalised version of R.L. Stine (cool) that has isolated himself, allowing for a degree of meta fan-love to seep into the dialogue.
Choosing to focus on an array of monsters rather than one or two was delightful. It felt wondrous in scale and continued to throw new and inventive obstacles in their way til the final moment. The whole thing is masterminded by a dummy named Slappy, but also includes a wolf boy, a blob, people-eating plants, killer lawn gnomes, a giant praying mantis an invisible boy and many more.
And it’s not overcrowded. They’re generic enough to follow easily and the film’s ‘angry for being entrapped’ motivation is blanket enough for all of them.
It does limit the options for the sequel though, which is really exciting. There are many more Goosebumps books to mine but the approach the film took was very singular. The film has doubled its budget and the merchandise sales are performing steadily. An accountant has already surmised a second Goosebumps film is bankable and Sony will no doubt oblige. Here’s hoping they maintain the quality.
A driving force to this quality is middle-aged Jack Black. Tenacious D, School of Rock, Shallow Hal and the lead role in Kung Fu Panda. Jack Black was, is and always will be cool. He’s properly acting in this one too, and far more convincingly than Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Black is extremely endearing and the script works very hard to make him unlikable.
On paper, if a drama actor like Steve Buschemi played RL Stine it would be… truly terrifying. Jack keeps is cool and friendly despite the grumpiness. Even when his redemption arc is complete he has this slight chip on his shoulder that separates him from his other characters.
To those that never knew the brilliance of School of Rock [what are you doing with your life? Directed by the same man that did Boyhood, it’s another modern classic. Seriously, how did he strike gold twice?]. Anyway, to those that never knew the brilliance of School of Rock the posters would have you believe that Dylan Minette (the older brother in Alexander and the Terrible, No Good Very Bad Day) and Odeya Rush (Tomorrowland) are the stars of the film. The casting agents got this right, though Minette does little to distinguish himself from any other young adult adaptation star.
They carry the first act of the film which comes out a little choppy, which is probably more down to the editing suite than anything else. It seems as though they turned in a film a little too long and the producer said “Chop anything that doesn’t have a monster in it”
Speaking of, it’s worth dropping a quick note on the quality of the visual effects. There were a lot of visual effects in this film and they weren’t to the standard of Avatar but they certainly outdid The Smurfs, the bear in The Reverent and Krypton in Man of Steel. Well done for $48 million.
And if you missed it, the real R.L. appears in the film’s closing scene as drama teacher Mr Black. Excellent subversion.
That’s the kind of quality that is throughout Goosebumps. January films are typically not fantastic films and this was far better than expected. Jack Black, ghouls and a great script. Can I get a sequel please?