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Goosebumps Movie Review

Goosebumps (2015) movie poster Goosebumps

Theatrical Release: October 16, 2015 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Rob Letterman / Writers: Darren Lemke (screenplay); Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski(story); R.L. Stine (Scholastic books)

Cast: Jack Black (R.L. Stine, voice of Slappy, voice of Invisible Boy), Dylan Minnette (Zach Cooper), Odeya Rush (Hannah Stine), Ryan Lee (Champ), Amy Ryan (Gale Cooper), Jillian Bell (Lorraine), Halston Sage (Taylor), Steven Krueger (Davidson), Keith Arthur Bolden (Principal Garrison), Amanda Lund (Officer Brooks), Timothy Simons (Officer Stevens), Ken Marino (Coach Carr), Karan Soni (Mr. Rooney), R.L. Stine (Mr. Black)

 

No one would have batted an eye if a Goosebumps movie had emerged in the 1990s. In that decade, author R.L. Stine released a series of scary children's books to enormous success. The original line wrapped up in 1997, while a spin-off series ran into early 2000 and another spin-off launched in 2008 continues to run to this day. Stine's Goosebumps books have sold over 350 million copies,
so they must remain a draw with young readers. But for the first generation who embraced them, the books belong to them, ranking up there with slap bracelets, pogs, and LA Lights as hallmarks of a '90s childhood.

Instead of a movie, the kids of the '90s had to settle for a low-budget anthology TV series produced in Toronto and Washington and airing on Fox Kids in the US and YTV North of the Border. The TV show is fondly recalled and more so if you haven't watched it recently. But now there is Goosebumps, a major motion picture starring Jack Black.

The film opens with new widow Gale Cooper (Amy Ryan) and her teenaged son Zach (Dylan Minnette) leaving behind New York for the greener pastures of Madison, Delaware. Zach immediately notices a curmudgeonly next door neighbor (Black), who warns the boy to respect his fence. The neighbor's daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush), is more welcoming, but Zach fears she's being mistreated by her father.

R.L. Stine (Jack Black) sort of protects three teenagers (Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, and Dylan Minnette) from the demons of his fiction in "Goosebumps."

On the eventful night that his mom, his school's new vice principal, is chaperoning a semi-formal dance, Zach and his new friend, a pariah named Champ (Ryan Lee), break into the neighbors' house and discover a bookcase full of locked Goosebumps manuscripts. Turns out the standoffish neighbor is none other than R.L. Stine himself and those manuscripts are enchanted. When they are opened, the horrifying characters written about become real. Zach, Champ, and Hannah see that first hand when they accidentally free The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena who chases them into an ice rink.

Like Night at the Museum, there are lots of things coming to life and making trouble. There is a gaggle of garden gnomes, a hungry werewolf in boxing shorts, a pack of ghouls at the cemetery, an invisible boy, and Slappy, a short-tempered ventriloquist dummy (resembling and voiced by Black). With the manuscripts all gone and burned, the author has to write a new story on his special typewriter to contain his creations and to save the day and the town.

Goosebumps assumes familiarity with the real Stine's stories, which seems fair given those jaw-dropping sales numbers. But the movie makes less of a play for '90s nostalgia than you expect. It's more or less a horror movie for children, something there aren't enough of. Those who have recently graduated from reading Stine's scares should find enough to enjoy tagging along with these teenaged protagonists. And Black ensures some comic value for adults, who should find his theatrical portrayal of Stine, whose blood boils at mention of Stephen King, fairly amusing.

A werewolf in boxing shorts is among the R.L. Stine-invented horrors let loose on the small town of Madison, Delaware in the 2015 movie "Goosebumps."

Though it doesn't do anything unexpected, Goosebumps still manages to divert much more than Black's last family film for director Rob Letterman, the dead on arrival Gulliver's Travels. Letterman, who transitioned to live action on that Christmas 2010 flop after co-helming Shark Tale and Monsters vs. Aliens, fares better with this screenplay from fellow DreamWorks alum Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After, Turbo).
The story is attributed to the seasoned duo of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who return for the first time in over a decade to PG-rated territory, the domain in which their careers began with the 1990 hit comedy Problem Child. The real Stine meanwhile expresses his approval in a very noticeable end-of-film cameo as drama teacher Mr. Black.

The kid-friendly visual effects, prominently attributed to Sony Pictures Animation, are not meant to blow you away, but they get the job done. They are apparently offered in 3D, though my screening was not. The decision to run with a hodgepodge of past Stine creations rather than try to stretch one thin tale to feature-length is probably wise. So too is the decision to be comedic instead of simply going for scares. It leaves the movie feeling like a modern-day descendant of Gremlins, which is not a bad thing to be.

While I could easily see this floundering at the box office, falling uncomfortably in between today's kids and the '90s ones who first grew up with these books, at least Sony doesn't stand to lose too much with a reported budget of $58 million, around half of Gulliver's Travels.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Pan The Walk Bridge of Spies Steve Jobs
Directed by Rob Letterman: Gulliver's Travels | Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski: Big Eyes Ed Wood That Darn Cat
Jack Black: Kung Fu Panda The Big Year | Dylan Minnette: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Night at the Museum Bedtime Stories Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief Something Wicked This Way Comes The Hole
Goosebumps (TV series) on DVD: Go Eat Worms Ghost Beach Attack of the Mutant The Blob That Ate Everyone

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Reviewed October 16, 2015.



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