Not long ago my personal history with the works of R.L. Stine was discussed here in another post:
As I’ve reference a few times, in my youth I had an aversion to horror. I didn’t relish being scared back then. As someone who gravitated to the genre later in life, I take no umbrage with the idea of juvenile horror such as the likes that R.L. Stine creates. Yes, many kids (much younger than I when I was started to read Desperation), cut their teeth on Stephen King. However, not all kids are the same (which is a small part of why I avoid giving parental guidance advice). However, I can remember instances where a certain frightening tale did intrigue me; Poe would be an example. Had I at a young age know of Stine I may have gravitated to the genre earlier.
This year, having had a number of his books come to me secondhand, I’ve read quite a few before donating them to the local library; and as evidenced by the TV shows that bear his name, they are twisted tales that don’t always work out so great for the protagonist, which can really scare kids. (I hope to prepare aa post [or a series of them] about The Haunting Hour, the series, before Halloween).
In having read some titles naturally one’s flim-inclined tendency is to mentally adapt as you go; see it as a film and think it as a film. The issue then becomes which of his myriad books to cover, which is why this film version is not only so ingenious, but also timely.
This film tells its tale from the perspective of a new kid in town, Zach (Dylan Minnette), who is intrigued by his mysterious next door neighbor, Hannah (Odeya Rush), and then threatened by her unfriendly father (Jack Black). The father is a fictionalized version of Stine whose literary monsters have become real, and must be kept bound in their manuscripts. A trio of kids along with the quirky, insistent new best friend, Champ very aptly portrayed by Ryan Lee; use their smarts on the subject, wits and bravery to battle this legion of nasties.
The angle of approach employing not only the meta aspect for additional comedy but introducing a new cinematic universe, which is clearly in vogue at the moment, is clever. Granted at times there is some of it that comes off as a very humorous, well-produced infomercial but it flows naturally. And let’s face it, name recognition comes into play in existing cinematic universes as well and Stine, despite his popularity with a certain set isn’t as renowned as say Stephen King.
The strongest segment of the film is the first act, which is in turn both a good and bad thing. It sets the film out in a strong way with a great build, the comedy clicks, the performers are in tune, the score excels and pushes the film along. Into the second and third act the innovation and freshness slow a bit apace and some steam runs out of the clever conception but it remains enjoyable throughout.
Danny Elfman’s score, one of his best in a number of years, is nearly all that remains consistently on point throughout. The Sony Animation Studios credit is noteworthy as the animation is very present effects are strong throughout – even though very much animated the blend is quite good.
Jack Black is a performer who I had not appreciated until he won me over entirely with his virtuoso performance in School of Rock. Over the past five years the only film of his that I’ve seen is another Linklater project, Bernie, which was rather a departure for him. It was good to see him again, and in great form at that. He’s restrained as Stine and cuts loose as the voice of Slappy and The Invisible Boy – a fact I didn’t know until I checked the end credits.
The other standout in the adult cast is Jillian Bell as Lorraine. Her scene with Black is comedic gold.
Whereas, Goosebumps as a show revealed many young stars, this film does a bit more of what The Haunting Hour did and use some proven younger actors Minnette, most recently seen in Alexander…, Ryan Lee, one of the revelations of Super 8 continues to cultivate his frantically nebbish cinematic persona.
Quality films that are also appropriate for kids are perhaps the most rare, even more so when they can actually scare kids also. Stine has that knack and this film that bears his most famous series’ name does too.