Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for scary images, intense action and rude humor
Running time: 103 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Launched by Robert Lawrence Stine in 1992, “Goosebumps” is a phenomenally-popular series of spooky stories carefully-crafted to scare the bejesus out of seven to 12-year-olds. The so-called Stephen King of kiddie literature has published hundreds of titles over the years, selling about a half-billion books worldwide and counting. “Goosebumps” has been spun off into a TV show and video games, so it makes sense that it would be brought to the big screen, too. Directed by Rob Letterman, the picture stars the terminally-impish Jack Black as R. L. Stine, although the author he’s portraying does make a cameo appearance during a mob scene. The movie marks the reunion of Letterman and Black who in 2010 collaborated on a poorly-received remake of “Gulliver’s Travels.”
This production is likely to fare far better, since its has a built-in audience already weaned on the books. Plus, the adolescents’ appetites have been further whetted by the prerelease of a product line of “Goosebumps” tie-ins, including posters, games, stationery, Halloween costumes, plush toys, clothes and accessories. Not that the movie version needs any help, as the combination live-action/animated adventure proves to be quite entertaining in its own right.
At the point of departure, we find teenager Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) and his recently-widowed mom (Amy Ryan) grieving their loss and sorely in need of a change of scenery, which explains their moving to the town of Madison, Delaware. Their new, next-door neighbor, Mr. Stine (Black), is a reclusive grouch who warns the boy right off the bat to keep off his property and to stay away from his home-schooled daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush). But it’s obviously love at first sight for Zach, who is instantly smitten with the attractive girl his own age.
On his first day of classes at Madison High, he proceeds to make fast friends with a nerdy loner named Champ (Ryan Lee). After school, the mischievous pair’s curiosity gets the better of them, and they trespass onto the Stine’s premises.
Upon entering the house, they rummage around the author’s mysterious manuscripts hidden in the basement, thereby unwittingly unleashing an army of monsters. They’re all characters mined from Mr. Stine’s fertile imagination: a giant praying mantis, the Abominable Snowman, the werewolf, lawn gnomes, zombies, Venus fly traps, the Invisible Boy, and so on.
What’s more, they’re doing the bidding of a diabolical dummy bent on major mayhem in Madison, if not world domination. Can the creatures be corralled and safely redeposited between the covers of the author’s journal? Can Zach win the heart of Hannah in spite of the objections of her overprotective father? Don’t be surprised if this episode ends satisfactorily while simultaneously setting us up for a sequel.
A family-friendly romp providing just the perfect blend of light-hearted humor and spine-tingling fright fare to scare and delight kids of all ages!