Monster House (2006)

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Review #154 of 365
Film: Monster House (2006) [PG] 94 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $12.00
Where Viewed: Landmark Egyptian Theatre, Seattle WA
[Seattle International Film Festival]
When 1st Seen: 15 June 2006
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Review Dedicated to: Clay B. of Chicago, IL

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]

Setting out to make one of the scariest animated films allowable and acceptable to the parental viewing audiences for their kids, first-time, feature-length film director Gil Kenan, working from a script idea cooked up by non other than Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemekis, unleashes the Monster House. Using motion capture CGI animation like that used in Polar Express and by Peter Jackson to remake King Kong and create Gollum for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Mr. Kenan has created a clever new horror mythology that harkens back to the scary house or apartment in everyone's childhood neighborhood or complex. In an impromptu discussion after the first North American showing of the film at the Seattle International Film Festival (2006), Mr. Kenan said, "When shown in France in front of an audience that was mostly French and Swedes, I had this French guy come up to me and say, 'How did you do it? That's the same scary house from my neighborhood.'" Believe it or not but the dynamic, whiz kid Kenan did a pretty good French English accent when he told the story too. And, it's really true. The idea with Monster House, however, takes the notions a bit further in that it challenged the writers to come up with a reason for why the scary Mr. Nebbercracker is so mean and horrible about any kids coming on to his lawn or ringing his bell or bothering his house. And therein lies an ingenious back story that involves a really good twist that's powerfully tough not to give away, but I'll resist. This leads, however, to the house coming to life, so you will initially think, when young DJ (voiced by Mitchel Musso) and his best friend Chowder (Sam Lerner) accidentally 'kill' Mr. Nebbercracker (the wicked—meant in the non-Boston sense--Steve Buscemi) by inducing coronary arrest while trying to fetch Chowder's new $29-dollar Wilson basketball off the lawn. [Note: the director claims this was an unintentional but fitting homage to Zemekis's Castaway.] No sooner does Nebbercracker get whisked away in an ambulance, then the house comes to life (voiced and acted by the beauty queen of all animated characters, the former Jessica Rabbit herself, Ms Kathleen Turner) to get even trying to snare the boys with her 50-foot, Persian hallway rug tongue. Their narrow escape and subsequent stake out of the house leads them to rescuing a savvy prep-school girl named Jenny (Spencer Locke) selling candy door-to-door the morning of Halloween using horror stories of what happens to houses with insufficient candy, when she walks up to the Nebbercracker house not knowing its decade's long history, the evil Mr. Nebbercracker himself, nor the home's recent attempt on the lives of DJ and Chowder. And, this bonds them into a realization that if the police cannot stop the house, it's up to them. Brave little kids if you ask me.

"Gil Kenan's Monster House…[is] exquisitely delivered: great voice acting, awesomely scary premise and script, and an ending that really packs a punch."
Make no mistake, parents and guardians, this is a very scary movie. The kids are in constant peril and they do things from stealing cough medicine to climbing and operating heavy construction equipment, from breaking and entering the house to using sticks of dynamite that we would not want young kids thinking were good ideas. The house, especially for the last 20 minutes of the film is a horror monster unlike anything we've ever seen. Think back to how scared little Kevin was in Home Alone when he has to face the scary furnace in the basement, and then multiply that by a 100 and run it for 45 minutes. This is a very grown up movie in some aspects of the themes. Apparently, the film will be rated PG and not PG-13. I have to admit, I'd recommend seeing the movie with the kids or before allowing kids younger than 13 to see it alone. Of course, the concern is that a bunch of 13-year olds will think this is cool stuff. Sort of a no win situation for the MPAA in setting this rating. Monster House expands the genre of the animated films a bit further than previous films pitched mostly at young kids not teenagers and it is hard to know for sure if teenagers will enjoy this movie as much as animated films are supposed to appeal to kids, and will adults let kids see it unchaperoned in the first place?

I would argue that the film is exquisitely delivered: great voice acting, perfect animation and animation technology—the characters have oversized heads and hands for a puppet-like effect, with Play-doh®-like molded hair (but nearly photo realistic clothing so you can see the ripples in the thick corduroy pants Chowder wears which was so cool); awesomely scary premise and script, plenty of nice touches and homages, and an ending that really delivers the goods, yet still there is something, some nagging thing that doesn't quite make this a home run, more like a triple. It took me, actually, quite a while to figure out what it was that bothered me a bit, especially upon re-reading that list of deliveries a few times. And then it struck me. I haven't mentioned, as I try not to give away too much of the plot, but you probably have wondered where were DJ's parents during all this time? Well, they were at a Dental convention. No, they didn't leave DJ home alone—though his mother does say as they are pulling out of the driveway, "If anything happens, call the police and hide in your closet." which struck me as a bit callous—they hired a babysitter named Zee (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is basically a lousy, no good babysitter who sends DJ to his room so she can play loud rock music on the stereo and make out with her loser boyfriend named Bones (voiced by Jason Lee). Between DJ's parents lackadaisical approach to parenting, Zee's numerous signs of immorality, and the vapid, donut joke-cracking, cough syrup-drinking policemen, there are shades of creepiness in all of the adults in the film not just Nebbercracker. This is amplified in an odd way when DJ and Chowder decide to consult Skull (Jon Heder), the video arcade master who is the smartest grownup they know about how to subdue the house. This character is a complete loser, and can only tell them to strike at the heart of the house to stop it. Duh? Ok. So, what's part is the heart? Yes, there is indeed a problem with the grown ups in this film. DJ's parents return without noticing that the house across the street is gone and that their son and his best friend are mysteriously covered in grime. His mother says, realizing it's Halloween, "Oh, I see, you two are dirty pirates." Huh? Yes, and while you were gone, David Copperfield came and made the scary house across the street disappear. Summing up, I'd say, Monster House is a really good film, with some implications towards adults that just were not considered as carefully as they might need to have been for the movie to hit that home run.

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Review-lite [150-word cap]
Setting out to make one of the scariest animated films allowable for kids, working from a script idea cooked up by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemekis, and using motion capture CGI, first-time director Gil Kenan unleashes the Monster House--a clever new horror mythology that harkens back to the scary house in everyone's childhood neighborhood. Monster House (voiced by Kathleen Turner), explores the coming-to-life of the house of the ultra-wicked Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi) upon his coronary-arrest induced by pre-teens DJ's (Mitchel Musso) and Chowder's (Sam Lerner) attempt to rescue Chowder's new $29-dollar Wilson basketball from the lawn of no-return. Subsequently, they attempt to tame the beast within putting their lives and town in grave danger. Overall, Monster House delivers: great voice acting, awesomely scary premise and script, and an ending that really packs a punch. Make no mistake, parents and guardians, this is a very scary movie.

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