Goosebumps

Posted by Joel Copling on October 15, 2015


Former children, let us face the reality: The "Goosebumps" series, created and penned by R.L. Stine, was never all that frightening. The books, all of them quick reads and designed as a sort of answer to Stephen King for youngsters, were more about the imaginative use of freakish monsters of both the author's imagination and of popular, medieval lore than about actively scaring kids. When one character here comments that the novels kept kids up all night, it's sort of the automatic assumption that a jittery excitement was the culprit, not fear of what might lurk in the closet or under the bed following one's own or one's parents' reading a chapter that usually ended in a cliffhanger.

This iteration of "Goosebumps," directed by Rob Letterman and adapted into a "Jumanji"-esque conglomeration by Darren Lemke, then, only really takes its inspiration as far as that kind of conglomeration will allow. As it turns out, it's quite inspired, reminding of what Joe Dante might have made in the early 1990s, if a time and a half busier and half as subversive. It does, however, feature likable characters and a sense of fun, neither of which is an attribute that should be ignored outright. If it doesn't have much more of an emotional core than a young protagonist grieving his father's death and another character who exists as a form of artistic connection between an author and his work, that's ok. It's zany, zippy stuff, and at least they get the creepy marionette doll who haunted the series just right.

Zach (Dylan Minnette) is the one mourning his father while his steadfast mother (Amy Ryan) remains by his side, although he'd prefer if she, the vice principal of his new school in the Delaware town to which they have uprooted from a big city, would walk into school sixty seconds after him. We never quite get a sense of this kid's academic standing, but he makes a friend in the nebbish and nerdy Champ (Ryan Lee), short for "Champion," and meets the girl next door, Hannah (Odeya Rush), in whom he develops a budding romantic interest. Her stern father, however, disapproves immediately, to such a degree that it appears there is a domestic situation within the household (a disarming idea glossed over by the screenplay, though the fact that it's clearly not that serious is established quickly enough and dismissed).

The truth, it turns out, is that Hannah's father is R.L. Stine himself, played by Jack Black in an odd performance that never quite jells with anything else onscreen. His literary creations, it also turns out, are real, and Zach, Champ, and Hannah accidentally release the Abominable Snowman of one of Stine's stories upon their small town. The sentient garden gnomes of another quickly follow, as does Slappy (voice of Black in the far more convincing performance from the actor in the film), the aforementioned marionette doll who is vindictive toward his creator and plots to destroy their town. This all leads to a finale that is as visually busy (too much so, in fact, and Javier Aguirresarobe's cinematography is marred by unnecessary 3-D) as it is equal parts amusing and creative.

There's a showdown with a werewolf in a grocery store, a chase down a backroad street with a giant praying mantis, and a pair of run-ins with a group of aliens who carry freeze-ray guns. The visual effects aren't exactly polished, as proven by a climax shot at night to cover up the disappointing lack of detail, but they do feel cartoonish in nature (Perhaps more photorealism would scare kiddos who might prefer to know, in some part of their brain, that these are not real monsters). Letterman handles the action with some gusto before applying some sentiment to the final showdown (It works, against all odds, because of the pair of performances at its center). "Goosebumps" won't give you any, but it will offer some undemanding entertainment.

Film Information


Jack Black (R.L. Stine), Dylan Minnette (Zach), Odeya Rush (Hannah), Ryan Lee (Champ), Amy Ryan (Gale), Jillian Bell (Lorraine).

Directed by Rob Letterman and written by Darren Lemke, based on the series by R.L. Stine.

Rated PG (scary/intense creature action/images, rude humor).

103 minutes.

Released on October 16, 2015.