Monday, October 19, 2015

Goosebumps Review

I remember a time in my life when Goosebumps was the thing. Everyone read the Goosebumps books and everyone loved the Goosebumps books. And when I saw "a time in my life," I'm referring to Elementary School. I think it was 2nd, 3rd, or 4th grade? Somewhere in that time frame. For me that was late-90's. It would've been 1996 when I started 2nd grade. If you're a 90's child like myself, you know what I'm talking about. The first Goosebumps book was written in 1992 and the original series of books had 62 books. Counting all the different spin-off series' written by R.L. Stine, there's somewhere around 200 books written and that has equated to 400 million copies sold. So yes, this is an extremely popular series and I was unashamedly right in the middle of it loving these books. When a movie was announced and the ensuing trailer came out, a lot of people were hating on it, thinking it looked terrible. I personally thought it looked like a fun Halloween affair for families. I kinda expected a dumb story with sub-par characters, yet fun monsters that led for a fun movie that critics would hate, but family audiences would enjoy. But holy cow, what I actually got shocked me. No this is not a perfect movie, but it's much better than I expected and thus I think it will become a Halloween classic that you should definitely see in theaters this month.

With around 200 books total in this series and 62 in the original series, there's a whole heck of material that they could've taken from for this movie. When I first heard that there was a Goosebumps movie being made, I assumed that they were going to adapt one of the books into a family-friendly Halloween movie. If successful, this could lead to a whole slew of successful sequels based off of the more popular characters. This is not the direction they took, though. Instead, they created a fun lore around author R.L. Stine. In the movie, Stine is someone who is very lonely and actually started writing the books because he didn't like children or people and he wanted to scare them all. Well, these books became super popular and thus he kept writing. But before too long, there was a certain spell or magic put on these books where the characters literally came off the page. Thus each of the original manuscripts had to have a lock put on it because if it was opened, the monster from the book would be released and you'd have to chase it down and trap it back in the original manuscript. You can guess how our story goes. A certain chain of events happen where all the books are opened and all the monsters are unleashed upon this small town and R.L. Stine and a group of three kids have to figure out a way to stop all these monsters and trap them back in the books.

Like I said, I expected a movie that had a dumb story, sub-par characters, and fun monsters. What really surprised me was this movie was the exact opposite. This movie has a great story, amazing characters, and slightly unimpressive monsters. I'll get to the monsters in a bit, but I really want to praise the story and the characters first. Our main character that the movie follows is actually a kid who is moving with his mom to a brand new town. This is a rough time for both of them because his dad and her husband has recently passed away and they just want to move to a place to start new. The chemistry and emotion between this mother and son is played fantastically. It really gets to you and thus you are emotionally invested in this situation right from the beginning. Then the kid meets this girl next door. Immediately you might think cheesy, teen love story. Based on the trailers that's what I thought, too. But no. This isn't a cheesy, teen love story simply because nothing about these two characters or their relationship is cheesy at all. These two have excellent chemistry as well and the direction the story went with them was excellent and believable. Our main kid actually acts how a normal teenage boy would act and the second they both discover that they have a connection, in comes R.L. Stine, the extremely over-protective dad. I don't want to say too much about R.L. Stine, but he's actually written as a very deep character and the father/daughter relationship there is also a great one.

So yes, with all this I was blown away. That's three separate relationships that immediately intrigued me. The stories with these relationships were very well written and thus very interesting to follow. There's a whole lot of depth and intrigue to this movie that I totally did not expect. And then on top of that, we have a pair of side characters that provide excellent comic relief. The first of these side characters is a guy named Champ. He plays a character who is really confident, yet really nerdy. He's not very good with the ladies and thus the popular kids at the high school never take him seriously, but that doesn't stop him from trying. Champ sees that our main kid, whose name is Zach, is the new kid at school with no friends, so he decides to be his friend and try to come up with a plan where they both fly solo at the upcoming dance. Noticing this friendliness, Zach takes advantage of Champ and uses him to help him save the girl next door, whose name is Hannah, from her crazy father. We then learn that Champ is easily scared, yet also an R.L. Stine fanboy and so his interactions with everyone is just hilarious. Our other side character is Zach's aunt, who comes in for "moral support." Yet she doesn't really provide much actual support. She's just this off-the-wall person who makes every scene she's in hysterical.

Thus the brilliance of all this is a combination of great writing and great acting. In terms of writing, I expected the monsters to be released right at the start, but they were bold enough to take time to develop their characters and establish a story that the audience can really care for and this worked like a charm. And by goodness is the acting great all around. Jack Black is our biggest name. He's often a hit and miss for me. When he's in his more adult-themed roles, he is not a funny person at all. But when he's in his family-friendly roles, the man is a comedic gold. Being that this is the family-friendly Jack Black, I was excited for him and I was really impressed by his character, especially because this was a much more subdued role for him. He was not the comic relief in this movie. His role was a dramatic, serious one and he was fantastic in it. Yes, he did have a few funny moments in the movie, but they were more subtle moments and not like Jack Black's usual humor. Our main trio of kids are fairly new on the scene, but not completely unknown. Jack is played by Dylan Minnette, who was great in Prisoners. Champ is played by Ryan Lee, who was great in Super 8. Hannah is played by Odeya Rush, who was great in The Giver. All three of them are actually 18-19 year old kids playing high school students, which I appreciate. Too often we cast people in their mid- to late- 20's to play high school kids, which is silly to me. All three of these people, like I've said, do a great job in this movie and I'm excited to see where their respective careers go.

See this is a Goosebumps movie and I haven't even really talked about anything Goosebumps-related yet. That's how surprising this movie was. But now let's talk about the Goosebumps aspect of this. The best thing about the Goosebumps books is that they are scary and intense, but not too scary or intense. As an 8-11 year old kid, this was perfect for me. I wasn't ready to dive into any Stephen King level books at that point. That was too much. But Goosebumps was perfect. There was real danger in the books, but it wasn't too over the top and thus was a lot of fun. That's exactly the tone that this movie takes. There are real monsters in this movie chasing everyone with the intent to hurt or kill them. This is real danger. But it's not too much danger. It's perfect for someone who is about 8 years old. This is too scary for little kids. Don't take your 4 or 5 year old into this movie. But if your son or daughter is nearing 10 years old, this is a great movie for him or her. I think this also bleeds over to the teenage years. This is a perfect Halloween movie to put on at Halloween parties for people in their teenage years. If you are an adult looking for something super scary, super terrifying, or super gory for your Halloween, this is the wrong movie for you. Unless you are a Goosebumps fan like myself and want an excellent nostalgic trip for Halloween.

Now you did read my statement earlier that the monsters in this movie are the worst part of this movie and you were probably wondering when I was going to actually talk about that. The time for that is now. Like I said in the previous paragraph, the tone for this movie is right. It's scary enough, but not too scary and it really respects the target audience. But if I'm being realistic here, the CGI in the movie is what's terrible. Let's take the werewolf for example. That was one of the most iconic monsters by R.L. Stine and thus I was excited for it to show up. But when it did, the CGI werewolf was so bad that it made the chase scene with the werewolf a lot less exciting. This was the same thing for a lot of the monsters. We had a great overall story with some amazing characters that I was fully invested in, but when it came to the monsters, they were the least exciting part of the movie, which was slightly disappointing. That said, not all of the monsters were bad. Believe it or not, there is a main monster in this movie and that is Slappy the dummy and he is actually a really good character who I do believe wasn't CGI. He was an actual dummy. At the very least, he looked like an actual dummy. The lawn gnomes were the same way. The were great characters that actually looked real, thus the scenes with them were excellent. Had all the monsters in this movie looked as good as these, this would've been the perfect Halloween movie.

In wrapping this review up, towards the end of the movie, R.L. Stine said that the perfect story has a beginning, a middle, and a twist. He also said that all of his books had to have a moment where our character experiences growth. The great thing about this movie is that it follows this formula that is in fact used in all of the Goosebumps books. At the beginning, we actual spend time setting the movie up. We establish great characters and interesting story arcs between the characters that make us care. The story that is set up is a great one. The middle of the movie is fun and exciting. Some have compared this to Jumanji in the way it's set up and I think that's a pretty good comparison. It moves fast as our characters have to deal with all sorts of monsters that show up out of the books. No, not all the monsters are great and that's because of some poor CGI, but overall they aren't too distracting. The movie does have some twists at the end that I won't talk about other than to say that I bought them. And yes, our characters do experience some beautiful moments of character growth. So overall, this is a very good movie. Not a perfect movie, but one that I think will and should develop into a Halloween classic that is show at Halloween parties for years to come. My grade for Goosebumps is an 8/10.

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