Thankfully, Goosebumps the Movie is not a Jack Black-centric movie. The protagonist looks at the life of Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) as he adjusts to the small town life at Madison, Delaware. After the death of his father, Gale (Amy Ryan), his mom, finds that he’s closed himself off to people. Although he befriends Champ (Ryan Lee), a socially awkward teen in the vein of Adam Sandler, and develops an interest in Hannah (Odeya Rush) — his next door neighbour — life still does not feel easy. Mr. Shivers (Black) is a menacing recluse and he treats nearly everyone with contempt.
The introductions are quick, and the curiousity Zach has with his neighbour borders on Dennis the Menace territory. While it’s true that he has a charm much like the child from the comic strips and Shivers has that Wilson like personality, to see him have a heart is when this movie starts to spark. But between making a story to spotlight as many of the monsters from the Goosebumps world invented by R.L. Stine and have a plot that matters, the balance is not quite there. There’s a lot of running around in this film and minimal character development to make the stronger points matter. That’s expected when Zach accidentally releases the first monster from Mr. Shivers’ library and it sets in motion the spectacle that takes up most of the film. There’s at least a dozen regular monsters and more on the side-lines that’s from the books. To count them all requires freeze framing each beast and giving them a name. That’s almost done when Shivers reveals himself to be the film version of Stine. He has to say which story this monster is from like it’s obligatory. That’s good for viewers who have not read all the stories and the idea works in getting this audience to investigate the original works. When Scholastic is involved in getting this movie to screen, that idea is of no surprise. The movie does work to get people reading.
In what doesn’t work is to take a very Jumanji-style approach to blast the screen with an entourage of beasts that keep on coming. Like in the Mummy Returns, perhaps the production rushed to get it out sooner than later even though the production spent four years in rewriting the script and two in getting the right cast to pull this tribute off. There is a definite charm that Minnette and Rush have on-screen. However, Lee felt unneeded. He was probably created as a foil to Black since he’s playing more of a grouchy character than someone funny.
There are moments of good humour from Black, although he doesn’t find his humanity until later. When Zach realizes that there’s something familiar of himself in Stine, a plot does surface to which they find that both have suffered a loss; they are both lonely in their own way, and that drama should have been highlighted more than spotlighting a who’s who of the Goosebumps universe.
Some of the monsters featured included Slappy the Dummy (who seems far too familiar, like his design was inspired from the Toyman villain from Superman: The Animated Series) and The Abominable Snowman. Fifi the Vampire Poodle and The Giant Praying Mantis are other notable beasts and at least six of them get more screen time than the others, which shows which beasts are popular. Sometimes there’s just gnome way to get a fair shake in this film, especially when there were times when the number of monsters featured on-screen probably exceeded the number of stories written by Stine (ghoulish hordes notwithstanding). Whoops!
Although this film was enjoyable, just what purpose did making it serve? Was it to help sell more books or actually provide quality family entertainment? The colour painted here is grey; Zach and Champ conveniently has to get the girl. Both of them earn their keep by saving the day, and that’s too trite of a message when already, Sony Pictures is in search for a different screenwriter to continue the story on the big screen. There’s no “The End” here.
3 Stars out of 5