Several years ago, writers Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab created a now-mythical television pilot called “Heat Vision and Jack,” which told the story of an ex-astronaut and his talking motorcycle as they tried to elude NASA assassins. Inexplicably (or maybe not, considering it starred then-unknowns Jack Black and Owen Wilson), it didn’t catch on, but now Harmon and Schrab are poised to hit the big time with “Monster House.”
Here’s the convoluted premise: pre-adolescent DJ (Mitchel Musso) lives across the street from mean old Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), who terrorizes any kid who ventures onto his lawn and appropriates any toys or other items that end up on his property. Nebbercracker, while harassing DJ and his friend Chowder (Sam Lerner), accidentally drops dead the day before Halloween, an incident which causes his house to come to malevolent life. DJ and Chowder watch in horror as the house devours a succession of unsuspecting passers-by and set about to stop it before it can wreak terrible havoc on the coming swarms of trick-or-treaters.
That, in a nutshell, is “Monster House.” The film, directed by first-timer Gil Kenan, takes place in that wondrous childhood netherworld where everyone who’s already experienced puberty is either oblivious, incompetent, or an idiot, leaving DJ, Chowder, and prep school entrepreneur Jenny (Spencer Locke) to combat the menace all alone. The interaction between the characters and the dialogue is perfectly believable, even if it’s a tad implausible that no other human being save these three ever see the house in action, even during the, er, explosive climax.
Also, in case you hadn’t heard, Hollywood is out of ideas. Theaters are glutted with remakes, sequels, and TV adaptations, and this trend will likely continue for the foreseeable future, or at least until you naughty bootleggers turn Hollywood into a barren wasteland where once mighty studio power brokers fight each other to the death in makeshift Thunderdomes over scraps of Hermes silk and old Treos.
But children’s movies have always offered those unable to break into film a chance to get a foot in the door. In many cases, they actually feature better writing than adult productions, “Sky High” and “Zathura” being two recent examples. Here were films, like “Monster House,” that were ostensibly aimed at kids, yet didn’t talk down to them, and were still engaging enough to make parents pay attention.
The animation in “Monster House” feels sufficiently naturalistic, and avoids the creepiness inherent in similar efforts like “The Polar Express,” which reminded me more of animated corpses than happy dancing children. Granted, I’m not that conversant on the techniques used, but nothing ever took me out of the movie, and the house itself is exceedingly well done.
If there’s any complaint to be made about the movie, it’s that it doesn’t follow through entirely on the horror we see early on. Obviously, this is a movie aimed at pre-adolescents and not 30-something emotional cripples like me, but I felt the movie could’ve been a little more ghastly. Still, I suppose one corpse is better than none.
“Monster House” is one of the best movies of the year, and a great accomplishment for Messrs. Harmon and Schrab. Maybe now we’ll get a feature length “Robot Bastard” movie.