October 16, 2015 by Paul Curtin
After keeping fans of the franchise waiting for almost two decades, the big screen debut of R.L. Stine’s best-selling Scholastic series is finally here — just in time for Halloween and for a new generation of potential Goosebumps fans. One part action-adventure like Jumanji, the other part Cabin in the Woods for kids. The first Goosebumps movie uses the monsters from almost all of Stine’s beloved novellas, and even Stine himself, to tell a true Goosebumps story in a meta way that plays surprisingly well off the nostalgia of its viewers.
Trailers for Rob Letterman’s take on the best-selling Goosebumps book series left fans fearing that the Gulliver’s Travels and Shark Tale director’s film wouldn’t be staying true to its creepy horror roots…. and while it won’t destroy your childhood memories like some other recent live-action movie incarnations, it too will leave die-hard devotees who grew up reading the books and watching the TV show divided. Like the trailers teased, the Goosebumps source material has been adapted as more of an adventure story than horror film, with far more thrills than chills. But even with a more family-friendly PG focus, viewer beware: there’s still plenty of fun to be had along with a few jump scares.
In typical Goosebumps fashion, the story begins with teenager Zach (Dylan Minette) moving into the small town of Madison, Delaware, with his widowed mother, Gale (Amy Ryan). New to the neighborhood, Zach catches the eye of witty and charming girl-next-door Hannah (Odeya Rush), and the two begin to bond like in any other typical teenage romance flick. The catch? Her dad is no other than the eccentric Stine himself (played amusingly by Jack Black), and he’s none too pleased with his daughter’s newfound interest in handsome Zach.
After rudely telling Zach to stay away from his house and his daughter, events lead to Zach breaking into Stine’s house in an attempt to rescue Hannah. This rescue mission of course doesn’t go as planned and results in Zach and his wimpy new self-appointed best friend, Champ (Ryan Lee), discovering Stine’s collection of original manuscripts. Growing up reading the iconic series themselves, Zach and Champ can’t help but take a peek at what lies hidden behind lock and key… resulting in the two accidentally unleashing the monsters of Stine’s stories, which literally begin jumping off the pages. Post-production 3D helps these moments feel more magical, but doesn’t do much else to help enhance the overall experience.
Using this plot device, almost all of Stine’s horrific creations make appearances in the film – even the real life Stine himself pops up for a quick and nice surprise cameo in Stan Lee fashion. Seeing the memorable covers come to life will instantly bring out the kid in you while you can’t help but laugh as an adult at silly moments, such as when Black as Stine tries to discredit Steven King and brag about his own sale’s numbers.
Unfortunately, with hundreds of memorable tales, the film has a hard time juggling all of Stine’s monstrosities and containing them within its near-two hour running time. There’s sure to be some of your favorites that are pushed into the background while others aren’t featured at all. Those who get the most screen time shine, such as the deviously adorable evil lawn gnomes and everyone’s favorite sinister ventriloquist dummy, Slappy (also voiced wonderfully by Black), who leads the monster revolt against their author father, Stine.
Millennials who remember watching the TV show after school as kids will appreciate the increased budget for visual effects that allow for creations such as the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena and the praying mantis from A Shocker on Shock Street to come to life. However, newcomers to the series and adults who missed out on the Goosebumps phenomenon might find fault with the B-movie effects that are at many times a little too heavy on the CGI.
Goosebumps plays to the strengths of its meta-driven storyline and delivers an entertaining, spooky, and at times touching tale that’s fun for the whole family. The ending is a bit lazy when compared to some of Stine’s own best work, and not all of its jokes and scares hit hard, but Goosebumps still manages to find a happy medium to please fans new and old. As a fan, simply seeing the iconic book covers come to life during the credits was enough to make me want to read one or two of the old stories. And who knows, the film might even tempt kids today with the scary thought of actually picking up a book and reading more of Stine’s anthology to give themselves goosebumps. Goosebumps gets 3.5 out of 5 stars (Very Good).