Monster House

Hooray for kids movies that remember that kids are not idiots!  The filmmakers behind Monster House know that children can handle scary things if they're not too scary, and successfully toe the line in this CGI film about a scary house that comes to life and eats people.  The concept is brilliant in that every kid remembers growing up with a weird old house on the block that look haunted.  First time director Gil Kenan takes this idea and transforms it into a story that starts slowly, then builds to a Grand Guignol type ending, throwing in a little bit of everything.  It's nice that the three kids here are smart (well, two of them are) and can think on their feet, making Monster House a nice piece of enjoyment in the big lull between Pixar films.

Everything begins when DJ's (voiced by Mitchell Musso, Secondhand Lions, The Keyman) parents go on vacation.  For months, DJ has been staring at the creepy house across the street, and its crotchety old inhabitant, Nebbercracker (voiced by Steve Buscemi, Art School Confidential, The Island).  The house is falling apart, unpainted, and has signs posted on the lawn demanding that people keep off.  Nebbercracker runs out and confiscates any toys that fall onto his lawn, all the while threatening to harm any and all children who even touch the grass by mistake.  DJ and his friend Chowder (voiced by Sam Lerner, Envy) try to figure out what is really happening with the house when Nebbercracker accidentally dies, and the house comes to life.  The two watch in horror as it eats people, toys, police, and even a small dog.

They get another explorer when the spunky Jenny (voiced by Spencer Locke, Spanglish) joins in.  The house is evil, and the three are determined to do something about it.  Screenwriters Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, and Pamela Pettler (Corpse Bride) develop a balance between fun and truly scary.  After all, the point is not the give kids nightmares, but to put together an adventure.  Once the story gets moving and the kids disappear into the house, Kenan and company come up with an original and clever story that manages to be engaging and tell a decent moral.

The computer animation looks good.  Most of the backgrounds look impressively lifelike, and the house comes alive convincingly (well, as convincingly as a house could).  The windows become the eyes, the door the mouth, and trees on either side of it become hands.  The humans are a different matter.  They look every bit as creepy as they did in The Polar Express.  DJ in particular looks very weird - his face is gaunt, and almost resembles a skull.  Everybody else is fine - cartoonish in their proportions.  The filmmakers dispensed with trying to get a billion strands of individual hair, opting instead to give everybody plastic, non-moving hair.  In this sense, many of the characters resemble dolls or action figures.  The movie tries to hard to throw in as much as possible in the final minutes of Monster House, which causes it to feel more like a big blockbuster than an enjoyable semi-scary film, but that is a bit forgivable.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 31 minutes, Rated PG for scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor, and brief language.

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