Ever since the ‘90s, plans for a Goosebumps movie have been in the air, with Tim Burton originally in line to be producing a movie adaptation which inevitably fell through. So, after two decades of trying and failing to get R.L. Stine’s acclaimed children’s book series to the screen, director Rob Letterman threw his hat into the ring, which has resulted in this FX-heavy extravaganza with screenwriter Darren Lemke reworking a story that had been penned by both Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (who had written both Ed Wood and Big Eyes for Burton). What they have created here is a thoroughly ambitious stab at the novels where, instead of going the safe-route and adapt one novel, they instead cram in all the ideas and concepts from nearly all of the books and build a scenario around that, which involves Jack Black as a fictionalized version of R.L. Stine, who discovered that he could bring his creations to life only to lock them away in all of his manuscripts in order to prevent further chaos. After moving from town to town with his supposed daughter, Hannah, they now reside in Delaware, where coincidentally enough his next-door neighbour, Zach (our main protagonist), has moved in with his widowed mother, and when Zach starts to investigate the strangeness of Stine, he accidentally unleashes all the monsters. This includes the titular Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, the lawn gnomes from Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes, and of course the ultimate nemesis in the form of Slappy from Night of the Living Dummy.
This film has been such an on-and-off project for a very long time, meaning there’s always the expectation that the movie would turn out to be something of a disappointment (ala Batman v Superman). However, that is definitely not the case here as, while it is not completely perfect, this is a thoroughly enjoyable romp that all families can enjoy with ease, which it has proven thanks to its box office takings in America and worldwide. In some ways, this has almost the same tone and spirit as Joe Johnston’s Jumanji, with illustrated characters coming to life and our main protagonists having to stop them, but this film stands out on its own. It’s creepy enough to not traumatize the youngsters and maintain enough fiendish mischief to keep them and the adults entertained, which is all part of Goosebumps’ charm. It provides us with the same macabre tone of the novels, whilst also being visually acceptable, but it never tones itself down. Plus, the film also excels at providing the laughs and keeping them coming without becoming too irreverent. Even though the stakes are high in this, the humour helps to lighten the tone on the scarier aspects of the film. This goes to show why family films of recent years have failed, solely because the filmmakers lost touch with how to properly entertain them and make em’ laugh, but this doesn’t fall into lowest common denominator humour despite there being some gross-out moments.
Also, the characters are also really likeable and have enough character development to make them interesting and investible throughout, which is to the script’s credit. But this is also down to some very charming performances, with the three main young performers (Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush and Ryan Lee) giving off very likeable charm and charisma in their turns. The real scene-stealer, however, is of course Jack Black as Stine, who thankfully downplays the OTT zaniness that has plagued his most terrible of works (Year One and Gulliver’s Travels), yet still gives a performance that is hilariously deadpan and crazy when it needs to be, making this one of his better performances of late. Plus, his terrific vocal performance of Slappy has very similar echoes to that of Mark Hamill’s Joker.
While it’s true that this isn’t the greatest family movie ever, it’s nevertheless extremely enjoyable and acts as a perfect tribute to R.L. Stine's famed franchise. It enlightens our imagination and it brilliantly does so through the medium of literature. Plus, the slight gag at Stephen King is priceless. This is a film that’ll appeal to both longtime fans of the series, yet welcomes new audiences to R.L. Stine’s creepy yet mesmerising world and will bring adults back to the good old days when their imaginations weren't so jaded. Hopefully, the success of this film will finally help set the trend for a good return to form for live-action family films.
GOOSEBUMPS / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: ROB LETTERMAN / SCREENPLAY: DARREN LEMKE / STARRING: JACK BLACK, DYLAN MINNETTE, ODEYA RUSH, RYAN LEE / RELEASE DATE: MAY 30TH