Starring: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan, Jillian Bell, Halston Sage, Timothy Simons, Ken Marino
Directed By: Rob Letterman
This is a kids film.
Just to clear that up, for any adults who thought this might be relatively scary, or fun enough for an adult to enjoy. It’s not. It panders to the 5-10 set, and Jack Black isn’t remotely funny. Yes, I missed this in theatres, but thanks to Netflix, I got caught up on silly mediocrity.
First off, there’s a twist (actually, two), and I guessed the first one about 15 minutes into the film. So, there’s that. The plot involves a teen, Zach, (a very likeable Minnette) moving to a small town with his mom (Ryan), and immediately meeting the girl next door, Hannah, (Rush) and falling head over heels for her. Her dad (Black) is probably crazy, though. Side characters include a wacky aunt (Bell), a goofy sidekick/friend (Lee), and the token hot girl (Sage).
One night, Zach thinks Hannah is in danger, so he breaks into her house. Turns out, her dad has a manuscript collection of all the Goosebumps books, but they’re all locked. One gets accidentally unlocked, and then chaos ensues.
Welcome to the silly world of Goosebumps. None of the monsters are every really truly scary, they’re always kinda silly/scary, in the way the hunter from Jumanji was, though that film was definitely better and more serious than this. I was hoping for more Jumanji from Goosebumps, but instead I got Diary OF A Wimpy Kid or Ramona and Beezus. Something that clearly gives zero fucks about whether or not adults are entertained.
As an adult character, Jack Black as RL Stine is the least responsible adult in the known universe. He spends the first half of the movie sheltering his daughter, but then when shit hits the fan, the only people who he can “save the planet” with are children. It’s a trope that only works in kids films, where the adults are portrayed as people who don’t listen to their kids, and it’s up to the kids to save the world. In those films, the kids might end up recruiting one adult to their ragtag group. Here, it’s the kids who stumble upon the books in Black’s house, so he was well aware of the supernatural element surrounding him. So when he needs to assemble his team of Avengers to fight the Goosebumps monsters, it feels odd that he picks the kid next door that he hates, his daughter that he doesn’t let go outside, and some random kid he just met. There’s a werewolf outside, I think I’ll have my tween daughter fight it for me. What?
And literally, at no point do the responsible adults in the film ever think “maybe our kids shouldn’t be doing the fighting”. Again, I know this is an overused plot device in kids films, but it just goes to show that this is very much a kids film. There’s no reason the kids have to tag along. In Jumanji, the kids HAD to tag along, because they were a part of the game, and would need to roll at some point for their turn. They were also accompanied by two adults, who tried to keep them safe the whole movie, and not rely on the kids to keep them safe. There’s a point in the film where Jack Black has the kids buy him some time by distracting the monsters. So, he’s the one safe from monsters, while his daughter is running around being chased by demonic plants. Good parenting, huh?
And, Jack Black is awful in this. I’m a huge Jack Black fan, but I think he realized he was selling his soul, and just gave up. I did like both Minnette and Rush, but not Black. The visual effects were fine, the story was plotted probably too fast, and tried really hard to reference most of the books. The Goosebumps books are written well enough in themselves, they could have just released a movie about one book. I know there was that TV show, but a well-written and directed film about Welcome To Dead House would have been way better than this.
As a kid who grew up on the Goosebumps franchise, this just felt like a cash in. It didn’t hit me in the nostalgia place at all, which is actually surprising considering I still have my entire Goosebumps collection on my shelf, and I’m 32.
Your kids might enjoy this, but they shouldn’t. While I’ve seen worse films, this one feels bad to have even kind of enjoyed, because it so clearly doesn’t care about the original series, or even attempting to make sense. It is purely a marketing ploy to launch a franchise, and boost book sales. If they’re making a Goosebumps 2, I hope they focus on the plot of just one book.
Jumanji, this is not.
FINAL GRADE: D+