Film Review: Monster House

In this animated comic adventure, DJ, a bright 12-year-old, uses a telescope to spy on the spooky house across the street. His parents think he's nuts, but his dorky pal Chowder and he are sure that something is rotten inside old man Nebbencracker's house, especially after their basketball disappears over there. Even their smart new friend, Jenny, who has all the moxie of a Harvard MBA, knows something's wrong there. But, as usual, the adults are clueless.

The film starts out promisingly the day before Halloween with DJ's parents heading off to a dental convention leaving DJ in the questionable care of babysitter Zee (voiced by Maggie Gyllenhaal), a two-faced goody-goody who's not what she appears. She blackmails DJ into staying in his room so she can make out on the couch with her sleazy boyfriend.

There's a funny scene in which the kids seek advice from Skull (John Heder of Napolean Dynamite), a pizza parlor slacker who is famous for his acumen at video games (he once played for four days straight on a single quarter). Skull admits he's heard of "man-made structures being possessed by a human soul." (Where, I don't know.) He goes on to advise them that the only way to stop such a monster from devouring everything in its path is to strike its heart, which the kids deduce must be its smoke-belching furnace.

They come up with a plan to destroy it using a vacuum cleaner disguised as an intruder, with a belly full of NyQuil™, but their scheme goes awry and they're sucked into the vortex of the hungry house. Once inside, the kids are subjected to a gauntlet of gnashing stairways, walls and floorboards. However, the movie runs off the projector when the kids escape the house, which then uproots itself and chases after them using its surrounding trees as arms and legs.

The film is aimed primarily at the 10 and under crowd and will work for them as a scare/fun-fest, but once the house starts raging through the hood and no one notices it but our three terrified heroes, it becomes totally absurd. The animation was done with the motion-capture technique developed by Robert Zemeckis (executive producer along with Steven Spielberg) on Polar Express. According to Zemeckis, "I think kids like to be scared, and going to see Monster House in the theater is going to be like entering a fun house in an amusement park."

Parents should proceed accordingly, and accompany young children. The movie opens July 21 and is rated PG for "scary image and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor and brief language."

- Philip Murphy

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