Combine Cabin in the Woods and Night at the Museum that’s pretty much what you’ve got in Goosebumps, a film with a clever premise that features not only R.L. Stine’s monster creations but also R.L. Stine (Jack Black).
The set-up is standard; Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mom (Amy Ryan) move to the suburbs after his father’s death and Zach takes interest in Hannah (Odeya Rush), the girl next door. The only trouble is that Hannah’s father, R.L Stine, is an overprotective recluse who wants Zach to stay far away from his daughter. Of course we understand the request, and Stine’s strange behaviour, when the Abominable Snowman is unleashed.
In the chaos that follows, Stine’s manuscripts, which keep all of his villains locked away, are unlocked and the parade of monsters begins. The monsters are a lot of fun and pretty to look at even if some scenes (a long supermarket chase) overstay their welcome.
The film never strays from its intended purpose of scaring children, just as the books intended. Adults may leave the theatre wishing the film had more in it for them, but silly adults, Goosebumps are for kids.
Director Rob Letterman deftly balances humour and mild horror and despite the manic energy of it all, or maybe because of it, the whole film strangely works.
The material could have lent itself to a darker and scarier film, but this kid-friendly approach mostly works even if the monsters are too cartoony and the scares aren’t all that scary. It’s hard not to have a fun with Jack Black who is perfectly cast here as R.L Stine. Amidst the parade of CGI monsters, Black manages to create a character which contributes significantly to the film’s modest success.
Ultimately, Goosebumps is a better than expected dose of family fun that puts the cast to good use and takes what could have been a painful commercial cash grab into something just a bit more meaningful.