Monster House

2006-11-10 17:05

There’s something very wrong with the house across the street, and twelve-year-old DJ Walters (Mitchel Musso) is determined to find out what it is. He has been watching old man Nebercracker’s place for weeks now, and anything that gets too close – toys, bikes, even pets - mysteriously disappears. Then, on the day before Halloween, DJ and his ungainly best friend Chowder (Sam Lerner) witness something terrifying. Their basketball accidentally lands on Mr Nebercracker’s lawn and is swept into the house by a tongue-like carpet and swallowed. Of course no one will believe them, particularly not Zee the babysitter (Maggie Gyllenhall) or her boyfriend Bones (Jason Lee). Neither does Jenny, a pretty private school girl out selling candy to the neighbourhood, until the boys have to save her from being literally eaten alive. When even the local cops won’t help, the plucky trio decides to invade the house and find some way to put an end to its reign of terror.


Remember the days when full length animated films were a once or twice a year treat? Now, with four mega-budget operations churning them out, along with six or seven smaller studios trying to make their mark, it’s difficult to be much more than an also-ran. Even the big studios routinely copy each other’s concepts - just look at Finding Nemo and Shark’s Tale or Madagascar and The Wild. In this cannibalistic environment, even glimmers of originality are welcome, which makes a spooky, sassy, rollercoaster of a film like Monster House very welcome indeed.

It’s not so much that the basic concept is entirely original - haunted or possessed houses have been a staple of popular culture since before film existed – it’s more that almost no one else is making spooky animated films anymore. Nowadays they’re all filled with smart talking animals or fish or robots and they’re all set in bright and sunny worlds full of perfectly rendered clouds and colour corrected water effects. Sure, they all have villains, but the villains are rarely the centre of the story.

By contrast Monster House positively revels in its spookiness, with the gorgeously gothic house as its main character. There’s nothing cartoony about the way the house eats things, growling and grimacing, with its tongue-carpet lashing out viciously, and younger audiences are likely to find the spectacle quite unnerving. But that’s the whole point. Kids like to be scared and, more importantly, they like to be scared of something they have personal experience with. Every neighbourhood in creation has a scary old house, and every kid has felt the dread of passing it by.

It also helps that the movie takes a kid’s-eye-view of the world and never patronises its subjects. Our pre-pubescent heroes are treated like little adults which is really what they are (or at least what they feel they are). The dialogue is also a lot more natural and true to life than the ironic winking and nudging of most animated features. This does mean that the movie has fewer laughs, but the ones it does generate are a lot deeper than the snickering that something like Madagsacar can drum up.

As far as looks go, Monster House can’t really hold a candle to the beautiful worlds wrought by the bigger boys like Pixar or Dreamworks. It does have a nice cinematic feel though, with camera movements that flow through space like a live action film. This feel undoubtedly comes from the fact that the film is actually not a true animated film, but rather a combination of motion capture (where actors are filmed using special techniques and their movements turned into animations) and standard computer animation.

This same technique was used for ImageMovers’ first animated feature, The Polar Express. Thankfully they have improved their methods, and the human characters in Monster House are far more lifelike and far less creepy and wooden than in Express. They’re still a little stilted at times, but they knock the socks off humans in other computer animated films, most of whom are caricatures.

In the end though, it’s the movie’s sense of fun that really carries it along. All the technical mumbo jumbo means nothing if you you’ve seen the story a hundred times. Whatever its faults, Monster House keeps you guessing right until the end. After all the movie was executive produced by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg, two of modern Hollywood’s greatest popular filmmakers. And if they can’t spot a great story, then no one can.

- Alistair Fairweather
Does the world need another big animation studio? Watching Monster House, the madcap and mischievous debut feature by Sony Pictures Animation, the answer is a big fat "yes".

tu 2006/09/05 9:31 AM
asd asd
Mo 2006/09/05 11:13 AM
Bad Review Thanx for giving away most of the movie. Bad review!
NiCO 2006/09/05 11:50 AM
spooky Monster House i never read the review, but i saw the movie, at 1st i was like,...this for kids??? i think its brill. very very funny, def wanna get it on dvd. compares to shrek like its animation but grown folk will enjoy it too. finding nemo,...i dunno hey, there was no ocean or fishies in this movie at all,...not even a fish bowel with a gold fish in the kids room
boogieman 2006/09/21 3:46 PM
bloody awesome movie! i loved it! and yes - i reckon its better than Shrek! the story had me going. Twists, turns ... just bloody marvelous!
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