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08/09/2006 - MONSTER HOUSE
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MONSTER HOUSE by Tom McCurrie


There have been so many computer-animated family films since TOY STORY that this type of animation doesn't seem so thrillingly new anymore. So I greeted the word that yet another computer-animated family film, MONSTER HOUSE, was set for release with a big fat yawn. But to my surprise and delight, I found myself captivated by this movie anyway - not so much because of the computer animation (which as we've come to expect from Hollywood is expertly done), but because the story is so strong.

Written by Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab and Pamela Pettler, and directed by Gil Kenan, MONSTER HOUSE benefits from a truly nifty premise: a haunted house that isn't just haunted, it's a living, breathing entity that can use its "mouth" (i.e. the front door) to literally eat you up and just as literally chase you down the street if you happen to trespass on its well-manicured lawn. This is a truly fresh, inventive conceit, and by itself will help attract today's jaded, "seen-it-all" family audiences looking for something unusual in their entertainment. The Monster House is also a truly frightening nemesis, one that will inspire terror in audiences of all ages, and generate a lot of rooting interest in neighborhood kid DJ and his friends Chowder and Jenny in their attempt to take this creature down and make the suburbs safe for Trick or Treaters again. (Important note: seeing adults and kids ferociously gobbled up by the Monster House may be too scary for younger children, so parents beware.)

MONSTER HOUSE has more than the Monster House going for it, however. And again, this is due to the superior screenplay. The movie is a trim 91 minutes, so the pace never flags. And there are numerous scenes of suspense that keep us on edge and numerous scenes of mystery that keep us intrigued (the latter re: the Monster House's surprising origins). There is also plenty of humor to leaven the chills as well.

One of the movie's highlights is the wonderfully complex Nebbercracker (well-voiced by Steve Buscemi), a seemingly sinister old man who turns out to be a true friend to the kids. Emotionally rich characters like this are not only more compelling to an audience, but also symbolize powerful themes (that appearances can be deceiving, that we shouldn't judge people by their looks) which are worth repeating over and over again, especially to kids, this movie's target audience.

Though the story is strong, it isn't perfect. DJ and his friends are certainly likable leads, but they tend towards clich? (Chowder is the hapless fat kid, Jenny is the spunkiest girl in town, DJ is the typically nice geek). The supporting players (the dense, roly-poly cop, the stoner dude) feel like stereotypes as well. And when the Monster House uproots itself and chases our kid heroes all over town, where are all the other residents? Wouldn't they find a sight like this unusual enough to stick their heads out their windows and take a gander, if for no other reason than to scream in horror? It feels like the town is deserted except for the three young leads (JD's parents have left on a trip, but the rest of the townsfolk should still be around). Even in an animated fantasy like this one, there needs to be some credibility or we'll pull away from the "reality" of the story and stop watching.

Luckily, MONSTER HOUSE is so much fun that the film's shortcomings are forgivable - you and your family won't be disappointed if you pay a visit.


Responses, comments and general two-cents worth can be E-mailed to gillis662000@yahoo.com.

(Note: For all those who missed my past reviews, they're now archived on Hollywoodlitsales.com. Just click the link on the main page and it'll take you to the Inner Sanctum. Love them or Hate them at your leisure!)

A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked as a development executive, story analyst, screenwriter and teacher of screenwriting. He lives in Los Angeles and is currently working on his first novel.

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