There must be other people out there like me. Every time a new animated film comes out, no matter how inventive it seems, I have no desire to see it. It’s not that I don’t recognize the craftsmanship—the creativity behind modern animation is often truly astonishing. Furthermore, it’s not that they aren’t entertaining—many of them have laugh-out-loud moments. Perhaps it’s just that underneath all the wizardry and talent, I find a remarkable sameness to the plot structure: the central character is an outcast/underdog who must go on some long journey to find some person/thing they desperately need. The character usually takes along a funny sidekick and meets tons of colorful and/or scary characters along the way. If you need examples of this, just pop Finding Nemo, Aladdin, Hercules, Monsters, Inc. or either of the Toy Story movies into your DVD player. So, walking into Monster House, I was taking a leap of faith. Here, I thought, might be a different kind of animated movie—one that might be darker and explore new territory. Instead, this pitiful film gave me newfound respect for the titles above whose inventiveness I had taken for granted.
An audience should always be suspicious of a Halloween-themed film released during the summer. As with the 1993 stinker Hocus Pocus (which also bowed in the summer), the thinking behind it is to scrape together whatever box office it can on its way to a DVD release that—surprise!—happens to be right around Halloween. Monster House follows a young boy named DJ (voiced by Mitchel Tate Musso), who lives across the street from the scariest house in the neighborhood. The house is owned by the crotchety Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), who terrorizes any kid whose toys or personage ends up on his lawn. For reasons that are never explained, DJ’s parents (Best in Show vets Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara) leave town the day before Halloween, putting DJ in the care of Zee (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a goth-teen who is more interested in her stoner boyfriend (Jason Lee) than taking care of DJ. When it quickly becomes obvious to DJ that something is not quite right with the house across the street, DJ enlists his best friend, Chowder (Sam Lerner) and a prep-school student named Jenny (Spencer Locke-Bonney) to unravel the mystery behind the Nebbercracker House.
I use the term mystery loosely, because the plot of Monster House is so shabbily constructed, it does not function as a mystery, a comedy or anything else. Furthermore, despite its marketing, I wouldn’t recommend this to kids. Unless watching someone almost drinking a soda bottle full of urine or a ten year old robbing a pharmacy is your idea of family entertainment, you’ll want to pass on this one. The film is tacky, snarky, and not terribly clever. Honestly, if the soon-to-be-infamous goat scene in the just-released Clerks II had turned up here, I would not have been surprised. None of the characters are likeable, believable or even interesting and the story is just plain awful. When a giant fat lady from the circus (voiced by Kathleen Turner, bless her heart) becomes a key plot point, it was all I could do not to audibly groan. Furthermore, the fact that the only African-American character in the film (a cop, voiced by the under-talented Nick Cannon) is a moronic stereotype is just one of many things that makes this film truly offensive.
Most perturbing though was the filmmakers’ inability to follow their own “rules” about the Monster House. I resent the idea that entertainment for children can get away with being dumb. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for (and often more perceptive than adults) and to pander to them with garbage like Monster House is insulting to their intelligence. Joel Siegel made news recently by walking out of the aforementioned Clerks II. While I’m not sure I agree with his actions, I certainly understood the urge while suffering through Monster House.
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