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I really wasn’t sure what I’d be getting with the new film from Robert Zemeckis, utilizing his technology from the enjoyable Polar Express. I have been intrigued by the buzz I heard saying that Monster House was a bit darker and scarier than parents initially thought when taking their children. Also, being nominated for the animation Oscar, along with the wonderful Cars and utter garbage Happy Feet, I put the dvd in with some nice anticipation. Thankfully the animation is leaps and bounds better than the oddly shaped characters from Express—can’t wait to see where they go with Beowulf—and the plotline has just the right mix of off-the-wall humor, moments of pure terror, and good old-fashioned family fun. True, while I wouldn’t recommend taking children much younger than 10 or so, if that, I would still urge you all to check out this gem of a film.

When you have a plot involving a house that eats whatever lands on its lawn, whether it toys or even humans, you expect to leave all sense of reality at the door. Surprisingly, the writers and director never delve into a true fantasy world, but actually personify this house into a character in and of itself. There is no Disney-like cuteness or fantastical magic; this house truly is a beast to be reckoned with. The adults, and their lack of imagination to believe what their children tell them, leave the job of saving the neighborhood to the three misfit kids—nerdy dorks DJ and Chowder and their new overachieving prep-school friend Jenny. What the film results in is the best tale of kids against supernatural odds adventure since the classic 80s movies The Goonies and Monster Squad. I really had a lot more fun than I ever would have expected.

Definitely notice the amazing talent pulled together for the voices. Although only on screen briefly, Catherine O’Hara and Fred Willard are absolutely hilarious as DJ’s parents. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they improv’d their whole role much like they do in Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries. While the kids were great, especially the goofball Chowder voiced by Sam Lerner, it was really the supporting players that made the film. Maggie Gyllenhaal is perfect as the dual-image babysitter and Steve Buscemi as the misunderstood cantankerous old man who owns the titular house. The ones who really shine, though, are Kevin James as the corny cop trying to do his job with a twitchy rookie partner, Jason Lee as the babysitter’s boyfriend (why did he look like he was 40 years old though?), and Jon Heder as the video game/comic book guru Skull. Heder’s short scene is pure gold.

How can you not love a film that succeeds on all levels, from children to adult situations, with lines like Chowder’s, knowing Jenny was in the room and that he had just hung up on his father, yelling for his dad to shut-up, slamming the phone down, and asking DJ if he had a beer? There were priceless moments like this throughout, and they truly made this a worthwhile viewing for the older crowd, while maybe a bit too risqué for its target audience.

Monster House 8/10

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photography:
[1] DJ keeps a watchful eye on the strange house across the street in the CG feature “Monster House,” from Columbia Pictures and executive producers Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg. Digital animation is by Sony Pictures Imageworks. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Imageworks

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