by Matt Seaver
Starting from a kid’s horror perspective, “Monster House” has everything going against it. It’s done in CGI, which means things aren’t going to be realistic, so that reduces how scary they can really be. It’s also done via motion capture, which “Polar Express” demonstrated as being very lifelike movements, but sacrifices were made via the more or less soulless human characters. And it’s in 3D, which means… OK, no, that just kicked ass.What’s cool about Monster House is that it overcomes a lot of those challenges, and also provides a pretty fun narrative that ought to keep kids – and adults – engaged. There are also moments that might scare the crap out the younger kids, which is cool, because that’s a hard thing to achieve. And it looks gorgeous. I only have a few, small complaints about the film, but nothing that detracted seriously from my enjoyment.
"Surprisingly pretty and scary."
DJ (Mitchell Musso) lives across the street from Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), the crotchety old man of his town. He’s worse, though, because his house is old, creepy, and alive. Yeah, alive. It eats people, animals, tricycles, or any random objects that might happen to land on the lawn. When his best friend Chowder (Sam Lerner) loses a ball to the house – and later witness the house REALLY come to life – they team up with local Girl Scout Jenny (Spencer Locke) to unravel what’s really going on, and put an end to the carnivorous domicile.
It’s silly, it’s cute, it’s completely ridiculous, but I’ll be damned if they don’t work it. It’s very hard to make an animated film scary, especially when the people are very much not realistic, but they pull it off here by making the house a legitimate threat. It’ll eat ANYTHING – cars and people included – and isn’t afraid to let adults see it, like a normal kid’s horror villain. There’s also a sense of anxiety, because the “monster” extends to the lawn and trees as well; there are some great moments when the house lures people in by having the lawn slowly consume the “BEWARE” signs the owner posted.
The voice work is above par, with lots of great people, but no one huge name that overshadows what’s going on. Buscemi, as always, is a standout, along with great placement of Catherine O’Hara and Fred Willard as DJ’s parents. Jon Heder also voices a more or less perfect character for him.
All that’s great, but the focus is on the visuals. If you have the opportunity to see the film is Disney Digital 3D, do it. It’s amazing. It’s much closer to what’s being done with IMAX 3D than it is the old red-blue glasses that gave people headaches. It actually tops IMAX 3D in a lot of ways, too. The lines are crisper and cleaner, and you can tilt your head to either side without noticeably distorting the image. Some of this may be due to the animation vs. live-action factor, but hopefully we won’t have to wait until Star Wars to find out. The one beef I have with it is that motion blur just doesn’t look right. It looks too clean, and too defined. But hey, if my biggest problem is that something looks too much better than reality, than kudos to Disney.
They keep the story flowing pretty well until about half an hour from the end, when I started to lose interest. Fortunately, they were able to grab it again with a pretty awesome fight between the house and the kids. Spread throughout the script is enough material to keep both kids and adults interested and entertained, whether it’s from the antics of the kids, or the more mature antics of DJ’s babysitter (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her punk-rock boyfriend (Jason Lee).Overall, lots of fun, and a much better testament to the abilities of motion-captured 3D than “Polar Express.” Certainly, the films were aiming for different things, but “Monster House” trumps Tom Hanks’s effort on both the technological and entertainment fronts. I would heed the PG rating for some parents, but so long as your kid can handle the frights, this is a really fun ride.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=14660&reviewer=412
originally posted: 07/27/06 10:57:31