Upset about moving from a big city to a small town, teenager Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) finds a silver lining when he meets the beautiful girl, Hannah (Odeya Rush), living right next door. But every silver lining has a cloud, and Zach's comes when he learns that Hannah has a mysterious dad who is revealed to be R. L. Stine (Jack Black), the author of the bestselling Goosebumps series. It turns out that there is a reason why Stine is so strange... he is a prisoner of his own imagination - the monsters that his books made famous are real, and Stine protects his readers by keeping them locked up in their books. When Zach unintentionally unleashes the monsters from their manuscripts and they begin to terrorize the town, it's suddenly up to Stine, Zach, Hannah, and Zach's friend Champ (Ryan Lee) to get all of them back in the books where they belong.
October 16, 2015
Jack Black as R.L. Stine
Dylan Minnette as Zach
Odeya Rush as Hannah
Hardcore horror aficionados will likely flame me to hell and back thrice over (and may never trust my opinion again!) for the following statement, but it’s the truth and I’ll stand by it unwaveringly: Goosebumps made for one of the finest theatrical experiences I’ve had in quite a few years (that says a lot considering I had the chance to catch both Halloween and Jaws on the big screen earlier this year). The movie was a full-fledged blast and I completely adored it. My 14 year old thought it was the bee’s knees. And when I asked her what she would rate the film, on a scale of one to five, she answered with a very firm “four.” I’m with her on that all the way. This may not be your standard horror fare, and it is indeed quite silly, but it’s a film that showcases Jack Black in precisely the kind of role in whch he shines, it looked awfully cool and the story was engaging enough to keep crowds old and young alike completely transfixed (it was one of those rare moments when the majority of theater goers broke out in applause upon the film’s conclusion). It may not be a Hard-R film (not by a long, long shot), but it does what a horror movie should ultimately do – it entertains right out of the gate and that entertainment doesn’t taper off or faulter through the 103 minute run-time.
Goosebumps opens with a look at teenaged Zach moving to a quaint little town with his mother, Gale, who also happens to be the new local high school assistant dean. Zach isn’t overjoyed with the move, but he’s struggling with all aspects of life, as his father passed one year prior and adjustments haven’t been easy to make. When Zach and his mother arrive at the new place he notices someone in the home next door, eyeing him suspiciously. It isn’t long before we learn that that someone is a cute little lady – about the same age as Zach – who quickly introduces herself as Hannah. These two hit it off quickly, but her father’s a grumpy, paranoid weirdo who doesn’t like the idea of his daughter conversing with the boy. As Zach and Hannah get closer we learn why her old man is a hard ass – he’s hiding a secret. A series of strange events leads Zach (and his quirky accomplice Champ, played by the awesome Ryan Lee) into Hannah’s home where he discovers a collection of Goosebumps books. But they’re not your typical paperbacks, and they’re all locked… until Zach opens one up and releases the Abominable Snowman. It’s all downhill from there, as Slappy the lunatic puppet makes his way out of his book, determined to release all of R.L. Stines’ monsters while keeping himself from the confines of his own book forever. Needless to say, it turns out that Jack Black’s character is R.L. Stine himself, and it soon becomes his duty – along with Zach, Hannah and Champ – to reinstate order in the world and get those monsters back where they belong, in the books in which they were birthed.
The most surprising aspect of Goosebumps comes from the success of the visual effects. With so many outlandish monsters, it seemed the production was doomed to look astoundingly hokey. While there are a few monsters that could have been handled in better fashion, the majority of these uglies look admittedly awesome. From the massive insect to the wily werewolf, we get some gratifying creature effects that are a lot better than they probably should have been. It’s a great relief to make that statement, as that’s the one thing about Goosebumps I was all but certain would stink up the cinemas. It didn’t, so kudos to the crew who brought this sizable array of antagonists to life.
The acting is also excellent. I’m not a huge Jack Black fan, and I feel he’s been a part of some genuinely sketchy flicks, but seeing him tackle the role of R.L. Stine and completely own that role was a treat. Black was born to play this character, and if we’re real lucky, we’ll witness Goosebumps become a big screen franchise (the movie comfortably recouped its budget, which is always a good sign). I wouldn’t hesitate to pursue a sequel. But the good work doesn’t come from Black alone. Dylan Minnette is money as Zach, and Ryan Lee (you’ll probably recognize this little fellow from Super 8 and This is 40) provides plenty of stellar comedy. Odeya Rush (Hannah) isn’t just an uber-cuter version of Mila Kunis, she’s got serious acting chops. The entire ensemble, really, hits consistent homeruns. It’s rare you find genuine performer consistency within this genre, but that’s what big bucks and an awesome casting agent will get you.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you won’t enjoy Goosebumps because it’s a family friendly film. And don’t skip it because Jack Black rubbed you the wrong way in the past. There are a lot of memorable moments, cool creature effects and strong performances to admire. The picture looks terrific. The charm of the story is impacting, and the film ultimately feels quite reminiscent of an Amblin flick, which should warm your heart plenty. Goosebumps may be light on the scares, but it’s big on the entertainment. This is a fast, fun flick that deserves your time and attention. Check it out with your rugrats, or your little brother – you’ll all be thankful after the credits roll.