'Goosebumps': Film Review

An amusing, fearlessly over-the-top screen rendering of the book franchise.

Jack Black plays R.L. Stine in this lively take on the hit YA horror-lite books.

Keeping the creepy/kooky mix entertainingly intact, Goosebumps translates R.L. Stine’s frighteningly successful young adult horror fiction series to the big screen with lively, teen Ghostbusters-type results.

Just like those 400 million books sold worldwide, the movie version, energetically directed by Rob Letterman, has a tongue-in-cheek tone that undercuts the bone-rattling with a dose of funny bone-tickling.

With a huggable cast headed by Jack Black and Dylan Minnette, the romp, marking Sony’s second Halloween-keyed release this season following in the monster footsteps of Hotel Transylvania 2, should create a similar frisson (after getting a first look at the London Film Festival) among nostalgic Stine fans and first-timers.

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Not exactly thrilled about having to relocate from New York to small town Madison, Delaware, when his widowed mom (Amy Ryan) accepts a job as a high school vice principal, teenager Zach Cooper (Minnette) perks up upon meeting perky next door neighbor, Hannah (Odeya Rush).

That is, until he discovers that her reclusive dad (Black) turns out to be none other than Stine himself, and he promises to make Zach’s life very unpleasant if he doesn’t keep away from his daughter.

Cutting to the chase, Papa Stine’s warning proves prophetic when Zach finds out the hard way that the creatures in his books have a habit of coming to life if the original manuscripts containing them are unlocked.

Cue the floodgates.

When faced with which of Stine’s other-worldly characters to release from their leather-bound confines, the filmmakers adopted a “the more the merrier” philosophy, cramming in dozens of them, led by Stine’s evil alter ego Slappy the Dummy.

Although that choice means missing out on any sort of more inspired one-on-one interactions, director Letterman (Monsters Vs. Aliens) choreographs the ensuing creature chaos with panache while still allowing the ample humor in Darren Lemke’s script (from a story credited to Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski) to rise above the cacophony.

While Black doesn’t physically resemble the actual Robert Lawrence Stine, he nevertheless creates an effectively droll character, combining a pair of heavy-rimmed black glasses, Orson Wells-type literate tones and a spiteful vanity that makes Stephen King the bane of his existence.

Possessing a relatable likability, Minnette and the fresh-faced Rush make sturdy foils for Black; while the preternaturally funny Jillian Bell mines some laugh-out-loud gems as Zach’s wacky Aunt Lorraine.

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Meanwhile, Danny Elman’s big playful Hitchcockian score provides a unifying undercurrent for the blend of CGI and old school fx make-up and puppetry involved in bringing the likes of the Praying Mantis, The Blob, The Creeps, the Vampire Poodle and all those vengeful gnomes to 3D life.

Production companies: Sony Pictures Animation, LStar Capital, Village Roadshow Pictures, Original Film, Scholastic Entertainment

Cast: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan, Ryan Lee, Jillian Bell.
Director: Rob Letterman

Screenwriter: Darren Lemke
Producers: Deborah Forte, Neal H. Moritz

Executive producers: Tania Landau, Bill Bannerman, Ben Waisbren, Bruce Berman, Greg Basser

Director of photography: Javier Aguirresarobe
Production designer: Sean Haworth

Costume designer: Judianna Makovsky

Editor: Jim May

Composer: Danny Elfman

Rated PG, 103 minutes