R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” series is easily one of the most popular and best-selling children’s book series of all time. With each installment serving as a standalone story, its format was well suited to the television series based on the series that appeared in the mid-1990s. That is also likely the same reason why it has never been adapted for film before—until now. For the new “Goosebumps” movie, directed by Rob Letterman, combines the monsters from all the books into one, new story, making for one entertaining family adventure, and one big nostalgia trip for longtime fans.
The story’s protagonist is Zach (Dylan Minnette), a teenager who reluctantly moves from New York City to the small town of Madison, Delaware with his mom (Amy Ryan) following the death of his dad the year before. It isn’t long before he becomes intrigued with Hannah (Odeya Rush), the girl who lives next door with her creepy, intense, and far from friendly father (Jack Black). When screams from their house lead Zach to believe that Hannah is in trouble, he and his newfound friend—the goofy loner Champ (Ryan Lee)—break in, only to find a shelf full of “Goosebumps” manuscripts that have been locked up. They accidentally unlock one of the books, “The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena”, only to have the Abominable Snowman actually emerge from said book. As it turns out, Hannah’s father is “Goosebumps” author R.L. Stine, and all of the monsters he dreamed up as a result of his loneliness actually are real. When the ventriloquist dummy Slappy (also voiced by Jack Black) starts opening all the books and unleashing all the monsters in a revenge scheme against Stine for keeping him locked up for so long, the four of them must team up to save the town.
This movie does a lot of things that are clever and fun. Including Stine as one of the main characters is an interesting twist, and Black sure does ham it up for the role. His Stine is over-the-top and mildly creepy, but in a comical way. As a single “Goosebumps” book on its own doesn’t have enough material to warrant a full-length movie, the screenwriters of this film came up with just the right solution in having all of the monsters from the series appear in one film—of course, some of them figure in the story more prominently than others, but still. The effects are good too, as the actors spend much of the movie interacting with animated characters, from vicious lawn gnomes to a werewolf, in a way that looks believable, if still a bit cartoony.
If you come to this movie for thrills, look elsewhere, because it is more silly than scary. The good news is that the film manages to pull off just about every gag, even if the comic sidekick Lee plays is cliché. Some parts of the movie are downright hilarious, like an appearance by the town’s two cops (played by Amanda Lund and Timothy Simons), one of whom is an overenthusiastic trainee. It does at least somewhat make up for the thin, predictable plot, which primarily involves the cast running from one monster encounter to the next, before proceeding to a rather unexciting climax. And while this is a movie made more for fun and less for analyzing every scene, there are a ton of plot points that go unexplained, mainly involving the reasons why Stine’s imaginary monsters came to life—we never find out how that’s even possible, by the way. Every time one of the kids comes up with a feasible plan for destroying the monsters, Stine replies with “It doesn’t work that way.” The filmmakers maybe could have gotten away with that line once, but when it is repeated multiple times before the end of the movie, it just comes off as lazy writing.
Still, “Goosebumps” is a ton of fun for kids, and for adults who probably remember reading the books and watching the TV show. It may not become a Halloween classic, but it’s still worth checking out.
Runtime: 103 minutes. Rated PG for scary and intense creature action and images, and for some rude humor.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre