Monster House
Director: Gil Kenan (debut)
Story: Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab
Screenplay: Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, Pamela Pettler
Producers: Steve Starkey, Jack Rapke
Voices: Steve Buscemi, Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner, Spencer Locke, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, Kevin James
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 91 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

     For a first time director, we rarely get a trick-or-treat like this. Gil Kenan has breathed a breath of fresh air into the typical animated fare. The only thing I can't figure out, is why the studio releaed this now, instead of at Halloween. My only thought is that they plan to release the DVD in October. Whatever; it's great.

      "The 'burbs" meets an outlandish version of "The Goonies" in this animated tale about a house that eats people. The first thing you'll notice is the directing style. The way the "camera" moves about and is placed at interesting angles and vantage points. One of my favorite scenes is watching a discussion taking place from the viewpoint of being inside a video game; it looked really neat and it was a cool idea that works well. At other points, you'll really feel like you're with the characters and almost gives it the tone of a live-action film. I can't wait to see what director Kenan will give us with his next effort. This guy is going places. A 29 year old kid fresh out of film school, and this is his first film? Amazing. His future may all depend on if he sticks with the animated kids tales or if he can make the transition to live-action. Either will most likely produce satisfaction; if not brilliance.

      In this story, three kids realize that the crotchety old man's house across the street is actually evil. Of course none of the adults, or even the irresponsible baby-sitter believes them. They take it upon themselves to rid the negihborhood of this terror. The adventure that ensues is terribly simple, but a fun house of excitement. Kids of all ages (including 30 year-olds) should love this one (with the exception of maybe the real little kids who may find it a bit too scary).

      Some of the voices are very recognizable, but were difficult to place for me. Buscemi and Fred Willard were obvious, but I had to watch the end-credits (stay a little later for those, by the way) for Catherine O'Hara, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Kevin James (King of Queens tv show). Look for a cameo role by Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder in the aforementioned video game scene. His character is pretty entertaining. All of the kids, basically newcomers, were excellent voice actors as well; a tough thing to find these days. Every single character was perfect for their role. Perfect.

      I can find no reason why this movie doesn't take place in the late 80s. About the time when I was these kids' age. I sympathized and related to a lot of the moments. The secret meeting place, the old-school video arcades, and the creepy guy down the street. All of the pieces of this puzzle fall into place beautifully and I lost myself in a wonderland of effects, "stupid" parents, your one fat friend, the cute girl you ilked and the crazy schemes you came up with (complete with super-soakers mounted with a scope).

      The animation is pretty interesting as well. It's obviously computer generated, but it also gives the feel of really smooth claymation. Some of the textures are really detailed and smooth (like Pixar films), while other things, like the kids' hair, is kind of "blocky." Sort of like Lisa or Bart Simpson might look if placed into a 3-D world. This type of style keeps us in the fantasy world, without making it look too fakey. I enjoyed every single shot.

      The movie is short enough for kids to stay involved. Not that that will be a problem as it is a very engrossing story with plenty of action and suspense; even a bit of a twist a the end. Monster House is a joy to watch and I would see it again in a heartbeat. The story and dialogue doesn't have quite the same charm as a PIxar film, but it comes darn close. I recommend giving this one a chance asap. It is available in some locations in IMAX 3-D format. I would be interested in checking that out if I can find it. Take a chance with all the other summer films out there and transport yourself to late October; when the leaves are changing, the pumpkins are carved and the houses eat people!


Links: - full cast and crew
Official Site
FLIXSTER PROFILE for Monster House