In some sort of ironic fashion, it’s not very original to say that Hollywood isn’t very original any more. We’ve all complained that the big studios are failing to produce any big original hits anymore, instead producing films based off books and comics and even worse, remakes. It doesn’t help matters that when Hollywood does end up trying to make something original, it ends up being something like Tomorrowland which flop hard. But I would like to say that even if you are basing your film on another property, you can still be very creative with it. But does Goosebumps fall into that latter category?
Zach (Dylan Minnette, Prisoners) has just moved into a new house in a new town and isn’t quite sure of what he’s meant to be doing after his father died. He ends up meeting his neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush, The Giver) and her odd father R.L Stine (Jack Black, Kung Fu Panda) who tries to stop him talking to his daughter. However Zach breaks in and comes across the original Goosebumps manuscripts. What he doesn’t know is that they hold a magic which keeps all of Stine’s monsters in prison and when Zach opens the book, he unleashes them all.
While this is all tied to the Goosebumps property, this film is still rather original in its story. It would have been very easy to just adapt one of the books and then produce a new film every year on a different book. We would have still got decent films and the producers would have got regular cash every year, but the director Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens) has gone for something a bit different. Not only is the fact we get R.L Stine and a bunch of teenagers taking on a number of monsters a fun idea, but it gives the creative forces behind this film a lot more freedom. And while I didn’t read the original books, I imagine seeing all of these monsters on screen is a delight for the fans.
And we get to see some other nice subversions of expectations elsewhere. When he we first see Zach, it appears that he’s going to a piece of wood. After all, he looks like he’s just been turfed off the set of The Maze Runner. Yet, he’s actually a lot of fun. Thanks to a lively script, Zach isn’t just bland white guy #3364. He’s actually a well formed character who is very good fun to watch. That goes for the rest of the young cast. Like Zach, Hannah appears to be bland white girl #772. Yet the script helps her out too and there is a nice little twist in the story which makes things even better. I have to admit that Champ (Ryan Lee, Super 8) can be a bit irritating at times, but the film knows when he should quieten down and focus on the other leads.
Yet as you can tell from the posters and the trailer, the real star of the show is Jack Black. Like many of his other performances, it’s completely over the top but it’s in a very different way to his other roles. In things like School of Rock, Black is just incredibly loud and gets his laughs by being completely outrageous. Here, Black chews the scenery and goes all out with the weirdness, and it is still very funny. It’d be very easy for us to get sick of the character of Stine, but thanks to the performance of Black it is entertaining throughout.
I’ve said this film is pretty original despite being based on an old property, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bit familiar. It’s very obvious that Letterman has taken inspiration from 80s kids films like Monster Squad and The Goonies in how we have a bunch of kids with easy to identify characters trying to complete a simple goal. And personally, I think that’s great. Those old 80’s films have been remembered for a reason and there’s no shame in trying to make a new one. And it’s not as if this film is beholden from it, it’s just taken the parts we like from those films and left the old tired clichés back in the 1980s with the flare pants.
This film is no way near perfect though. I’m not sure what the budget was like for this film, but I’m sure they could have spent a bit more to make the CGI creatures more convincing. It does mean the film aims to do more practical effects, but it is forced to use special effects at times and they look like they are on a TV show than a big movie. Also, the villain is Slappy, a dummy from one of Stine’s books. Yet it is voiced by Black, and not brilliantly. I know there is a deeper point on why Black does both Stine and the voice of Slappy, but the latter is so obviously Black it distracts from the film.
Not every blockbuster needs to be about some world ending threat, some can just be an adventure with some friends. Goosebumps understands this and is very entertaining because of it. All it does is give us an entertaining and interesting group of characters, give us some amusing threats and vilains and just lets them get on with it. This film then becomes incredibly watchable and one of the nicest surprises I’ve had in recent months. Hey, good things can happen from our current nostalgia fest!