These days, it seems every old TV show, movie, and book series is getting the Hollywood “let’s throw some CGI at it and make a movie out of it” treatment. It seems especially easy for movie-makers and the studio powers-that-be, because no matter how much fans complain about the “bastardization” of the classic properties that we know and love… people still go see the new stuff. They still toss money at it, which in turn lets said movie-makers make a profit, which validates their decision to remake/reboot an old property, which gives them the gumption to go remake/reboot another old series. It is, quite frankly, a vicious cycle.
One of the side effects, of course, is that new movies “based on the original [insert media type here]!” usually get the “this probably won’t be that great” mentality from the audience. Is that unfair? Tough to say for sure; for every “good” reboot we’re given (the newer Star Trek films, to use a popular example) there seems to be an equal number of, shall we say it politely, “not-so-good” products (who on the good green Earth was asking for a Karate Kid remake, really?!). So, it was with more than a little trepidation that I went to my advance screening of the latest old-product-turned-new movie offering, Goosebumps. While it didn’t exactly blow me away, I was pleasantly surprised and largely entertained, and I suspect kids and twentysomethings that grew up with the books will find even more to enjoy.
The film centers around a few different main characters, one being teenager Zack Cooper (Dyan Minnette), who’s recently moved to the small town of Madison, Delaware with his mom Gale (Amy Ryan). Zack despises the boredom that the town presents, but finds a glimmer of hope when he meets his neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush), a girl his age that seems pretty cool. A major bummer, though: her dad (Jack Black) is crazy-overprotective, and possibly crazy in general, warning Zack to stay away from them at all costs. Zack soon realizes the reason for the warnings, however: after he and his newfound friend from school, Champ (Ryan Lee), break into Hannah’s house on suspicion of her being in trouble, they discover that the mean old fellow is actually famed author R.L. Stine – he of the Goosebumps series fame – and the monsters that he wrote into all of his books are actually real. Normally locked in Stine’s original manuscripts, a succession of accidents unleashes the characters into the real world, and it’s now up to the three teenagers and the author to track them down and attempt to re-contain them before it’s too late.
You’ve got all your best Goosebumps baddies along for the ride: the Haunted Car, The Blob That Ate Everyone, the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, the Giant Praying Mantis, and who can forget Slappy the Living Dummy. Stine was a master at making his “monsters” things that would naturally be a bit foreign to kids without being too over-the-top scary, and it’s this part of the story that’s really going to shine through for younger viewers. Comedy is mixed in that is, again, primarily aimed at the younger crowd, but it’s harmless enough fun that adults should find themselves chuckling right along as well.
Black knows how to play to and with the younger crowd, as evidenced by his physical and vocal work in movies like School of Rock, Shark Tale, and Kung Fu Panda, among others. He’s enjoyable to watch as the curmudgeonly Stine – a very excellent meta-type move on the writing team’s part to include the author in a tale about his own works – and he’s just the right amount of “restrained crazy.” The rest of the YA-skewed cast do fine jobs for what they are asked to do, and of course the monsters share main billing as well; while what they do doesn’t always “make sense” within the context of the plot, the logic transgressions are largely forgivable ones.
When it’s all said and done, Goosebumps won’t be winning any major awards, but like the preceding book series of its namesake, it’s harmless fun without being too violent or taking itself too seriously. As a “reboot” type of movie, it could have done much worse.