****1/2 (out of 5)
July 21, 2006
Steve Buscemi as NEBBERCRACKER
Mitchel Musso as DJ
Catherine O’Hara as MOM
Fred Willard as DAD
Sam Lerner as CHOWDER
Maggie Gyllenhaal as ZEE
Jason Lee as BONES
Spencer Locke as JENNY
Kevin James as OFFICER LANDERS
Nick Cannon as OFFICER LISTER
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Directed by: Gil Kenan
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
When this year’s releases started to shore up, I thought I was going to get tired of the computer generated film. After all, there are more of them being released this year than any other year. However, I have to admit that I am pleasantly surprised with the level of quality coming out of the CGI animated studios in 2006.
“Monster House” continues the trend of quality family films in the new animation format. Using motion capture technology like that used in “The Polar Express,” the holiday Robert Zemekis and Steven Spielberg is going after now is Halloween (in July, no less).
Everyone remembers the old scary house in your neighborhood growing up. If anyone lived there, it was often a crotchety old man who stood on the porch yelling at the kids to “Get off my lawn!” The filmmakers behind “Monster House” apparently used this common occurrence as the springboard for their film.
“Monster House” tells the story of DJ, a kid who lives across the street from the scariest house on the block. One day, when his buddy Chowder loses control of his basketball which rolls onto old man Nebbercracker’s lawn, DJ approaches the house. When Nebbercracker comes out to yell at him, he passes out.
When the ambulance leaves, DJ and Chowder notice that the house seems to have come to life. Later that night, people start disappearing. They’re lured to the house which wakes up and eats them. DJ and Chowder enlist the help of a neighborhood girl to try to kill the house before hundreds of trick-or-treaters come up the walkway and get devoured.
I thoroughly enjoyed “Monster House.” It took me back to my childhood when I would read scary stories in early grade school. There are plenty of spooky scenes and scary imagery, but overall it’s tame enough for young children. The frightening parts are more fun, reminding us what a thrill it is to be just a little scared.
“Monster House” strikes the perfect mix for children and adults. There’s plenty of humor in there for the parents that will go over the kids’ heads. And the scary scenes are tame enough for even the youngest of viewers to be okay. I took my five-year-old and my three-year-old to see this film, and they both loved it. (And that’s probably a better testament than anything I could write.)
The voice cast is excellent, featuring some well known talent like Catherine O’Hara and Fred Willard as DJ’s parents and Steve Buscemi as the cranky Nebbercracker. The children’s voice actors are good as well. However, the real fun are the smaller parts, including Kevin James and Nick Cannon as dim-witted policemen and Kathleen Turner as Nebbercracker’s rotund, dead wife.
The animation is slick and stylized. Like other films like “The Incredibles” and “Ice Age,” it creates its own look rather than going for total photorealism. In some ways, the look reminds me of old-school stop-action photography, only with a very smooth look.
If you’re lucky enough to be near a theater with digital projection, it’s worth checking out the 3-D version of the film as well. Using polarized light instead of red-blue anaglyph color, the 3-D is mind-blowing and clear as ever.
Overall, “Monster House” is not just one of the best animated films of the year, but one of the best films of the year.