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This most definitely is not The Great Pumpkin,
Charlie Brown!!!

Monster House
Review written by: Alex Sandell

How many of you are old enough to remember the 1980s?  It was a decade of bad hairdos, bad music and bad Presidents.  But one worthwhile thing came out of that corrupt and contaminated 10-year span of trickle-down and teased hair:  Coming of Age movies with monsters. 

Sure, it sounds cheesy, but when you think back to films like Fright Night, Gremlins, The Goonies, E.T., Weird Science, Silver Bullet, and The Lost Boys you realize that this was the pre-eminent decade for films about newly pubescent boys and girls simultaneously discovering their sexuality and battling evil supernatural monstrosities while their parents were out of town.  Then the 90s came around and teenagers fighting unholy entities along with their burgeoning libidos vanished as fast as goofy hair bands.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer eased the pain, but there really wasn't much else during the 90s.  At least not that magical, fun, scary, thrilling, adventurous style movie popularized by the likes of Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis.  It shouldn't be surprising, then, that Zemeckis and Spielberg are two of the executive producers behind Monster House, a film that could have just as well been called, "It Came From the Eighties!" 

Monster House is the story of DJ (Mitchel Musso), a boy who lives across the street from a cranky neighbor named Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi).  DJ has been spying on Nebbercracker with his telescope, watching the man verbally assaulting children who enter his yard.  He also observes the old man stealing whatever lands on his property -- even a little girl's tricycle.

Mom (Catherine O'Hara) and dad (Fred Willard) go away for the weekend leaving DJ at home with his babysitter, Zee (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and friend, Chowder (Sam Lerner).  DJ ends up being caught by Nebbercracker when he's in the old man's yard, trying to retrieve Chowder's basketball.  Nebbercracker over-exerts himself while shaking and yelling at DJ and collapses lifelessly onto the boy. 

DJ worries that he'll be accused of murder.  Chowder comforts his friend by letting him know that, if it's an accident, they call it "manslaughter."  As DJ convinces himself that he just killed a person, the old man's body is placed inside of an ambulance and taken away.  

And that's when the fun really begins.

DJ starts being haunted by the house.  It appears to be spying on him.  Smoke constantly flows from its chimney.  Two of its front windows light up like eyes.  Anything left on the yard disappears, including the people leaving them.

Chowder winds up staying the night at DJ's, where they monitor the house well into the morning.  They won't even leave the bedroom to pee, instead using Mountain Dew bottles as makeshift urinals. 

Perched in their darkened hideout, looking at the home across the street, the boys end up catching a glimpse of an attractive young girl named Jenny (Spencer Locke).  Jenny instantly becomes both boy's first crush and, to the boy's horror, she's about to walk herself up to the haunted house.

The house tries to eat the young girl, but the boys come to her rescue.  The ragtag team quickly finds that adults aren't willing to help them, and that they need to conquer the abandoned house on their own.  It's Halloween, and if the house isn't stopped before trick or treating begins, hundreds of children will become a smorgasbord for the hungry home.  Armed with nothing more than a few squirt-guns and flashlights, the three makeshift heroes set out to save the day.

Great premise?  Check.  Great animation?  Check.  Great producers?  Check.  Great Director?  Hmm.  Who's this Gil Kenan fellow?  Not only hasn't he directed anything before, he seems to have appeared out of thin air.  If he wasn't making the rounds at various screenings, I'd guess he was an alias for either Spielberg or Zemeckis.   

Kenan directs like a seasoned professional.  It's obvious that Zemeckis and Spielberg both used a hands-on approach to producing this movie.  It feels like their movie.  But it also feels a little bit like Tim Burton's, or Richard Donner's.  Gil Kenan definitely studied the right directors, before stepping up to the camera.  The result is a film that is the frontrunner for movie of the summer. 

The house alone is more impressive than anything else put on film so far this season.  Never mind the excellent voice-acting (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Steve Buscemi are standouts, but everybody shines), jaw-dropping animation and exemplary use of lighting.  One would have to think back as far as 1922's Nosferatu to remember a horror movie that made such great use of shadows. 

No CG-animated film prior to Monster House was directed with a style this close to that of a live-action movie.  There has been a glut of CG animated flicks since Pixar started the trend 11 years ago.  Having watched every single one of them, I can honestly say that there's never been one quite like this.

The question on so many parent's lips has been:  Is it too scary for my child?  While every kid is different, and I can't really do the parenting for you, I'd say this is fine for ages 8 and up.  Yes, it does have some genuine suspense and even a couple of creepy moments, but so did all the greats I grew up with in the 80s. 

Monster House does the "coming of age movies with monsters" genre proud.  Spielberg and Zemeckis have moved on to different kinds of films, but it's nice to know that someone has finally arrived to pick up where they left off.  This movie is sure to become an annual Halloween tradition along the lines of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

I'm guessing Monster House was released during the summer to make it out on DVD by October 31st.  But don't let this one pass you by on the big-screen.  It's movie magic.  The kind many of us thought died many summers ago.  It's also the rarest of family films -- one that the whole family can enjoy. 

Agree? Disagree? Considering Hare Krishna? Email Alex!

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9

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