It’s amazing what great voice acting, engaging characters, and wonderful animation can do for a film, isn’t it? When all is said and done “Monster House” is enough of a horror film to please the open-minded horror fan, and enough of a children’s film to keep them utterly entertained. I admit to writing off “Monster House” upon its arrival, only because while the film is wonderful, the story isn’t exactly original (ahem—Robert Wise’s “The Haunting”, anyone?), but the combination of a strong script, and truly down to Earth characters make “Monster House” a short but very entertaining piece of horror fantasy that reaches down into really human themes of loneliness, death, and puberty. What many will enjoy about this film is that it’s very much in the spirit of classics like “The Monster Squad” and “The Goonies”, in which we have a small group of kids whom are also outcasts that have to take on a giant obstacle when no one will stand in and help them out.
And then there are your archetypes: the love interest, our reluctant hero, his heavy but hilarious friend, and a teenage antagonist who complicates their plans every so often. It’s all here, a mold from the aforementioned films dropped down into our creatively bankrupt society. DJ is the local kid who sits by his window every day and takes pictures of the old man across the street who frantically screams at anyone who comes near his house. One day while playing with his friend Chowder, they lose their basketball and DJ braves it and tries to fetch it back. But old Mr. Nebbercracker grabs DJ and mid-way drops dead. Now, only days after his departure, DJ is sure that the house he once lived in is out to get him, and he now has to get inside and stop it before it eats anyone else.
Teamed with a survivor, they decide to go on this journey to save the neighborhood before Halloween arrives and plenty of scrumptious children become its prey. “Monster House” has the distinction of being graced with three great performances by its principals; Mitchell Musso is great as the hero DJ who has to discover a way to take the house off-guard so he can delve into its underbelly, while Sam Lerner steals much of the film as Chowder. I loved Chowder and I can’t think of a reason why other people won’t. With a small red cape, Chowder gets himself into all sorts of troubles and gets all the best one-liners (“It mocks us with its…house-ness!”).
With a mixture of cowardice, and plush sensitivity, Chowder becomes a standout character, and Sam Locke is great as the spunky and sly Jenny, a survivor of the house’s wrath who decides to get back at it with the help of DJ and Chowder. And of course, what would an animated film be without an all-star supporting cast? There are the talents of Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, Kevin James, Jason Lee, John Heder, Kathleen Turner, and Steve Buscemi who plays the ugly and frightening Nebbercrakker, while Maggie Gyllenhaal is memorable in all her pixilated punk rock sexiness as Z, DJ’s irresponsible foil of a babysitter.
“Monster House” is an utterly simplistic but hilarious adventure that only a select group of its target audience will find entertainment with, and I don’t recommend bringing along anyone under the age of eight, because the fantastic animation manages to spawn an awfully horrific house that’s more demonic entity and less bricks and wood. I suspect, and hope that “Monster House” will become a Halloween classic, because it’s too fun to be forgotten. Sadly, “Monster House” is too short an experience for what I can consider one of the better animated films I’ve seen in a while. Though possibly too intense for toddlers, “Monster House” will please much of its audience because of the tight script, great performances, and gorgeous animation.