Monster House – Movie Review

Monster House is the animated tale of a group of kids living in a Leave It To Beaver-style neighbourhood who take on that creepy old house across the street (y’know the one: a cranky old man lives there who apparently hates children and is very strict that no one trespasses). It turns out that (surprise surprise) the house is actually alive and when the cranky old man is gone, it likes to do more than just look scary. The premise of the story is not new. You can sort of see where the story is going right from the outset and when the explanation for the haunting was given, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

However, what the movie lacks in freshness, it kind of makes up for with visual charm. If you’ve seen any of the promos and interviews about this movie you’ll know that the actors involved didn’t just provide voices. Through special apparatus and computer techniques, animators captured their expressions and physical motions as well. The animated characters are really life-like, even though they are clearly cartoons with exaggerated proportions (large heads, distorted features, etc.). Unlike in the animated film Polar Express (which used a similar technique), there is no attempt to make the kids look realistic, but they still feel very realistic and believable. I found myself caught up with the magical childhood of the kids and didn’t feel like they were CGI animations at all. The creepy house effects are also really good. Animation artists did an excellent job of turning a house into a monstrous head, with windows for eyes and cracked wood planks for terrifying fangs.

Unfortunately we have to come back to the story. There was just too much time spent setting up and leading to the confrontation with the house (considering it’s not a very original concept, they really shouldn’t have wasted all that precious screen time—c’mon, we know none of the adults are going to believe the kids. Get to the good stuff!) When they finally make it inside the house, the encounter is all too brief (the house seems to be surprisingly small inside—a couple of rooms and a basement), and the final plan is see-it-coming-miles-away simple.

Obviously this is a kids’ film and I am not the target audience for it. Unlike in a Pixar film, there are only a few grown-up oriented jokes here. On one hand, I am excited that kids get to see films that are fun, well-animated, with nice relatable characters—and not a single trading card battle in sight. On the other, I was looking for something a bit innovative, story-wise (like Iron Giant had been a few years ago), and didn’t get it. Nevertheless, a solid 3.5 out of 5.

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