First and foremost, a very merry Christmas to all of you! I hope that the holidays are good to you, and you find yourself in the company of people you love, and all that. Now, let us get to this… movie. I hope you brought your nostalgia… because it’s Goosebumps.
A teenager teams up with the daughter of young adult horror author R. L. Stine after the writer’s imaginary demons are set free on the town of Madison, Delaware.
Growing up, I was the biggest fan of R.L. Stine’s books. From Goosebumps to the much sexier Fear Street, I was all over it. Even the television show, made here in Canada, was able to get me excited and enthusiastic. It was probably the beginning of my love of the genre really, and with such a massive amount of stories, I was never in short supply of kid-friendly thrills and chills. While my love for that time of my life, and the impact that Stine had on my childhood are certainly held in high esteem, I have no nostalgic blinders on when it comes to the quality, particularly of the television series. Trying to watch the series in 2015 is nearly impossible, with the staggeringly low production values and quality in the performances. I strongly recommend the Jontron video on the subject actually, it puts things into jarring perspective if you ask me.
So, what I had hoped for from this movie was at least a bit of a tickle of the ol’ nostalgia-bone, and perhaps some yuks from, the usually charming, Jack Black. What I got instead was a complete and total mess, crammed full of characters who are recognizable-ish, and a story that goes all over the place trying to make things work that just don’t. The movie is directed by Rob Letterman, who previously brought the wretched Jack Black vehicle, Gulliver’s Travels to the big screen. So, with that track record and THREE credited writers, Darren Lemke (Turbo), Scott Alexander (Ed Wood), and Larry Karaszewski (Big Eyes), the movie quickly devolves into a jumbled mess and can’t bring itself out of it.
For some reason, the lead monster is Slappy the ventriliquist dummy, voiced by Jack Black, and there is some implication that this character, more than any other, has the deepest connection to R.L. Stine, to the point that Slappy leads the monster army and they follow him without question. There’s an attempt to combine the stories and make them have some relation to each other, but each book was a separate entity unto itself and the fact that Slappy (from the 7th book in the series), is any more or less important than, say, Carly Beth (from my personal favourite, The Haunted Mask). I had a hard time understanding why the story choice to focus around Slappy, beyond the fact that dolls are the “creepy” thing right now. Perhaps some attempt to cash in on Annabelle? Who knows.
There are a couple of creepy moments and the animation used in the movie isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but it just doesn’t work in the grand scheme. I did find the initial encounter with the lawn gnomes effectively creepy, but its soon over and replaced by a ridiculous werewolf in shorts, and it just falls so flat over and over, and I found the complete under utilization of the Haunted Mask offensive to my own personal nostalgic viewing of the movie.
Performance wise, you have Jack Black coasting through most of the movie, giving a fairly ordinary performance. He is a naturally funny guy, and he’s not unfunny in the movie, but his presence doesn’t add much, which was pretty unfortunate. You also have performances from the relatively bland Dylan Minette (Prisoners), who doesn’t have much to do except play “Generic Teen Hero”, and his sidekick played by Ryan Lee (Super 8) who isn’t terrible, but again doesn’t bring much to the hollow movie. You also have Odeya Rush (We Are What We Are) who serves as the hero’s prize for a job-well-done in the end of the movie, but does one of the better jobs all around. We spend a considerable amount of time with all of these characters, and they feel so poorly defined and half-cooked that they’re as forgettable as the movie itself.
At the end of the day, you have a weak movie that doesn’t really do any favours for the series that it’s based on. It’s a jumbled mess, with too many monsters AND it has the audacity to sequel bait as well. A real disappointment, and not something I would really even recommend for nostalgia’s sake. Give this one a pass, and have yourselves a merry little Christmas.