Starring: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan, Jillian Bell
Directed By: Rob Letterman
Release Date: October 16th, 2015
Rated PG for some rude humor, creatures and images which may frighten young children
If you grew up in the 90s like I did, you probably read R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” books. You may have even read some of his many other series, such as “Fear Street”, “Give Yourself Goosebumps”, “Goosebumps 2000”, and so on. Each “Goosebumps” novel featured a preteen protagonist who had to fight a supernatural monster, and they were breezy, fun reads. Well, it was only a matter of time before Scholastic decided to add to Stine’s empire (and their pocketbooks) and release a feature-length movie.
The film is very typical of a Goosebumps novel, except that our hero, Zach Cooper (Minnette) is in high school, so he is older than the usual Goosebumps protagonist. He and his mother have just moved to the tiny town of Madison, Delaware. Almost immediately he falls in love with the lovely girl next door, Hannah, (Rush) and makes enemies with her father, Mr. Shivers (Black). Zach believes that Mr. Shivers is abusing his daughter and enlists his new friend Champ (Lee) to investigate while her father is out of the house. While there, the two discover that Mr. Shivers is actually R.L. Stine, the author of the “Goosebumps” novels. To their horror, they find that Stine’s monsters are real, trapped in books, and they accidentally release the monsters from the books. When they start destroying the town, Zach, Mr. Stine, Champ, and Hannah must team up to get the monsters back where they belong.
At 103 minutes, it’s a fast-paced thrill ride that does not disappoint. While younger children may find some of the monsters terrifying, they reminded me of the rampaging animals from “Jumanji”, except perhaps better rendered. The only “monster” I found scary was Slappy the Dummy (who is voiced by Black). He is essentially the embodiment of all of Stine’s inner demons, and his gleeful malice is believable, without being campy or over-the-top, as is Black’s wont.
A common criticism of the novels is that the characters don’t seem to learn any lessons or grow. This is not the case with the film. Both Zach and Stine must learn to let go, and they do so in a touching way. (The plot twist toward the end almost brought me to tears.) While it’s certainly no Oscar contender, it’s an entertaining watch, and my inner child was thrilled to see his favourite book series brought to life for a new generation.