Every perfect and picturesque neighborhood – at least in the movies – has one: that creepy old house that fuels the nightmares and serves as the centerpiece of the double-dog dares for the local kids.
DJ (Mitchel Musso
) has made the house his mission. He's set his bedroom up as home base to watch old Mr. Nebbercracker across the street, an irate curmudgeon (voiced by Steve Buscemi
) who steals any balls or bikes that find their way into his yard, chases after kids to keep off his lawn, and, presumably, thinks the music kids listen to today is nothing but noise. Within an hour of DJ's parents leaving for the weekend, Nebbercracker is dead (from a heart attack during an apoplectic moment at finding DJ on his lawn) and DJ is finding out that the old coot might not have been the most dangerous part of the creepy old house, because the house itself is starting to… eat people. Article continues below
No one believes him, obviously, so DJ and his friend Chowder (Sam Lerner
), along with a prissy prep school girl named Jenny – both of whom narrowly avoided being a house meal themselves – have to stop the house, since it's Halloween and neighborhood kids will soon be walking right up to the front door like so many snack-sized candy bars.
The story is, of course, pretty simple and straightforward, with your stock heroes stepping up to save the day, pre-teen angst, and monster backstory provided in the final act. But it is also cleverly written enough to provide quite a bit of entertainment for older viewers, too. In fact, be warned: this is perhaps the hardest PG film I've seen in a while, and there are an awful lot of deaths, danger, and uvula jokes for the little 'uns.
But that's probably because the animated Monster House is clearly courting the older audience, and the upside is that the danger doesn't feel kiddie korner and sanitized, and the jokes are amusing even if you aren’t just at the movie to appease a nagging 10-year-old. The voice talent, too, is a pull for older viewers, including Maggie Gyllenhaal
as a bored babysitter and Jason Lee
as her stoner boyfriend, Nick Cannon
as an over-eager rookie cop, and Jon Heder
as a burnout video game freak.
But because it's animated, and therefore duly bloodless, House is still essentially a kids' film. In fact, that may be the only reason it's animated, since it could have just as convincingly been a live-action movie, but this way we get a pretty nifty house that is drawn just so and is simultaneously an unremarkable home and a menacing living thing, complete with carpet-runner tongue and leering window-shutter eyebrows. And fortunately, though it is animated with the same motion-capture technique that Robert Zemeckis
(an exec producer on this film) used for The Polar Express, Monster House avoids the same unnerving is-it-real-or-is-it-animated look from that film; never mind the rating, that is way too creepy for me to watch for 90 minutes.
The persistent question of the movie, though, is why on earth Monster House is being released in July when it is so thoroughly a Halloween film in both setting and sentiment. From its spooky subject matter to the pseudo-Elfman score, the movie clearly owes more to Tim Burton
than to the traditional Disney
-style animated summer family movies. It's an inexplicable marketing choice, to attempt to lure viewers into a hobgoblin mood in the middle of a heat wave, but if families decide that they are in the mood for some scares in the summertime, they will likely be pleased with what they get.