GOOSEBUMPS (8 out of 10) Directed by Rob Letterman; Written by Darren Lemke; Starring Dylan Minnette, Jack Black, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee and Amy Ryan; Rated PG for scary and intense creature action and images, and for some rude humor; Running time 103 minutes; In wide release October 16, 2015.
Too often, Halloween movies fall solely in one of two camps – adults only or kid friendly – and rarely will the twain meet. Normally, parents will either hire a sitter while going together to the former or pack a flask and grit their teeth while suffering through the latter with their kids. “Goosebumps” manages to walk an extremely fine line that will not only have kids thoroughly enjoying themselves, but even parents will get some good laughs and find a reason to have fun with it as well.
Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) is a typical teenager although he has been more withdrawn and moody since his father died a year ago. His mom, Gale (Amy Ryan) accepts a position as a vice principal at a high school in remote and sleepy Madison, Delaware, and she hopes that the move and change in pace and setting will be good for her and her son. At school, Zach quickly makes friends with the bumbling but loveable Champ (Ryan Lee) but is more intrigued by his reclusive next-door neighbors, Hannah (Odeya Rush) and her father, Mr. Shivers (Jack Black). Zach and Hannah hit it off immediately and go on an impromptu date to an abandoned amusement park in the woods, but he is forbidden from seeing her again when her father finds out they sneaked off together. Convinced more is going on than is apparent, Zach breaks into their house only to discover locked manuscripts of the original “Goosebumps” books. Opening one and accidently unleashing a monster from its pages, Zach and Champ learn that Mr. Shivers is actually R. L. Stine whose imagination was so powerful, his creations came to life, and he keeps them safe and locked up in the manuscripts. Unfortunately, they overlook one and release Slappy the Dummy who takes it on himself to free all of Stine’s creations to run amok on the town while getting revenge on Stine for imprisoning them for all those years.
By all accounts, this movie shouldn’t have worked. Sure at lot of people look back at the book series with rose-tinted glasses, but anyone giving them more than a cursory glance will realize they’re not that good. The film, on the other hand, is actually funny, well put together and enjoyable for people of all ages.
It’s a testament to the charm and wit of the writing that not only were kids having a good time, but the adults were laughing along just as much, if not more, as they picked up on the jokes that flew over younger heads. Just because a movie is made for children doesn’t mean it has to be dumbed down and stripped of character. CGI cleverly mixed with practical effects meant that Slappy the Dummy was brought to life just as well as the “Werewolf of Fever Swamp.” In fact, whether it was the “Abominable Snow Man of Pasadena” or the “Revenge of the Garden Gnomes” almost every single one of Stine’s creations got a few moments to shine and allow the audience to enjoy the nostalgia of childhood.
It was also smart making the kids the stars of the film instead of focusing on Jack Black the whole time. Not to say he isn’t a lot of fun; he is and gives a restrained performance as R. L. Stine, but this isn’t his movie. The kids took on their performances admirably, and it probably didn’t hurt that they were played by actual teenagers and not college grad students slumming for cash. Dylan Minnette and Odeya Rush actually have chemistry as the two leads and Ryan Lee’s Champ is perfect as the comedic relief. Not to be outdone, Jillian Bell who shows up as Zach’s loony aunt stole every scene she was in and made us look forward to seeing her every time she popped up.
While Halloween movies for kids come out every year, it’s rare to find one that is actually enjoyable for the whole family, so people need to take advantage of these opportunities when they arise. “Goosebumps” knows exactly what it is and sets its sights on providing fun for people of all ages and maybe a few small scares for the younger crowd. It also does this well enough to warrant becoming a new Halloween classic that families will sit down and enjoy each year when October rolls around.