In a move that I’m sure someone had been ardently hoping for, there is now a movie based, more or less, upon R.L. Stine’s wildly popular “Goosebumps” series of books. However, rather than being a film version of any one Stine story, “Goosebumps” attempts to cast a wider net.
We start with Zach, played by Dylan Minnette, and his mother, Gale (Amy Ryan), who are moving to a new town in Delaware for a fresh start after the death of Zach’s father. As they are unpacking their car, Zach meets next door neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush) and her gruff, unfriendly father (Jack Black as Stine).
Hannah is homeschooled, kept practically imprisoned in her home and given no real opportunity to make friends or meet people as her father moves the pair from town to town every few years. However, she and Zach hit it off quickly through stolen conversations through the fence that separates their yards and one late-night excursion into the woods.
Pappa Stine finds out about Zach and Hannah’s budding flirtation and attempts to put Hanna on a stricter lockdown, which causes Zach and his new school friend, Champ, to break into the Stine house in an attempt to free her — I guess?
It is then, wandering through the house, that the pair discover the secret of who Stine is — the “Goosebumps” author (his name is never used before the discovery), as well as the dark truth lurking behind his creativity. Stine’s imagination is so vivid that his scary creations literally come to life and leap off the page any time one of the original manuscripts is opened.
This, of course, is exactly what happens. The pair accidentally frees the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, who, in turn, frees the animated ventriloquist’s dummy, Slappy, who then frees every character Stine has ever created, and they all proceed to wreak havoc on the town.
What the end goal is remains murky. Slappy has some kind of grudge against Stine, and the monsters all seem to be trying to capture him, though what Slappy will do with Stine once he has him is never clear. From Stine’s end, however, the goal is simple: In order to capture all of the monsters and end the problem for good, Stine must write one last story — one encompassing all of his creations — and put a happy bow on the entire affair.
All of that sounds a bit slapdash — and it is. The film crashes around without explaining itself particularly well, but it still works. If you are (or were) a fan of Stine’s books, you will enjoy the references to most of the “Goosebumps” highlights, including Slappy, The Invisible Boy, The Abominable Snowman and more.
“Goosebumps” the film works in the simplest way possible. Kids who are familiar with the books will love it, if the ones in my screening are anything to go by. Parents will find most of the plot to be inane, but at no point does it ever become boring or tedious to watch. Black is entertaining as Stine, Minnette and Rush are great as the young leads, and Ryan Lee as Champ does a good enough job with the role of “over-the-top crazy character that every kids’ film needs for some reason.”
Every kids’ film released this year will be compared, fairly or not, to “Inside Out,” and most all will be found wanting. But “Goosebumps” manages to please its core audience without driving the parents who need to be there nuts, and sometimes that is all you need. CV