*sigh* Okay, let’s get this out of the way: Yes, I grew up reading Goosebumps and they were a significant part of my burgeoning love of the horror genre. They hold some level of nostalgia for me, but other than being an easy way for young readers to discover a way to get into horror stories, they are pretty disposable. They’re breezy and often derivative tales that have next to no literary merit. Doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoyable at the right age, but that sentiment should stop once you gain the ability to read above a fourth grade level.
However, I do think my knowledge of Goosebumps has a little bit of bearing in regards to this cinematic appropriation of the property. I say “appropriation” because this movie isn’t really a Goosebumps movie as much as it is Jumanji (or the superior Zathura) with monsters from Goosebumps books. Most Goosebumps stories had a wicked sense of humor, even going so far as to occasionally imply a kid death at the story’s end. Goosebumps has your standard kid movie humor (yes, prepare for a fart joke) and none of the EC Comics gallows humor that gave the books the slightest of edges.
So, as a standard kid movie, how does Goosebumps fare? It’s aggressively average. To be fair, the first fifteen minutes or so of the movie fooled me into thinking it could be secretly good. All the actors range from serviceable (Jack Black, Odeya Rush) to actually good (Dylan Minnette, Amy Ryan, and a far too infrequent Ken Marino), and all the setup before the monster shenanigans got underway had me along for the ride.
Unfortunately, it’s when the plot kicks off that Goosebumps shifts into neutral and never really changes. The barrage of monsters that are unleashed from R.L. Stine’s manuscripts are all fun enough, but none of them leave any kind of lasting impression or attempt to steal the show, and you don’t spend nearly enough screen-time to even get a good look at most of the creatures. This is a big problem when it comes to the film’s main villain, the ventriloquist dummy Slappy. Slappy is somehow the de facto leader of the monsters, but other than a “you trapped me in a book, Dad!” motivation, he’s got nothing else going for him. There’s not a ton of interaction between him and the monsters that gives us any idea as to why Slappy should be the head honcho, other than the fact that he’s one of the most recognizable figures from the books. That’s the real reason.
My biggest gripe with the film has to do with the rules of how all of this works. We’re told that R.L. Stine (Jack Black) was shunned and picked on as a kid, so he wrote monster stories. And then one day they just… were real. That’s literally the explanation given. But, when the team comes up with a plan to write a story that will trap all of the monsters, Stine says he needs his particular typewriter in order for it to work. So, the typewriter is kind of magical? Later, Zach (Dylan Minnette) tells Stine to write a story quickly or wrap the story up by simply typing, “The End,” to which Stine replies, “It doesn’t work that way.” In fact, I think he uses that exact line twice without giving any explanation. It’s incredibly lazy and could have easily been fixed any numbers of ways (magic typewriter, magic books, a stupid amulet, I don’t care!) and that lack of thought when it comes to the mythology sucks a lot of the fun out of this fantasy.
I don’t know where else to put these criticisms, so I’ll randomly stick them here: parts of this film (maybe the whole thing? I couldn’t tell after a while) have that awful motion blur that occurs when shooting with certain digital cameras. It’s physically painful for me to watch. Maybe it comes across better in 3D, but I don’t see 3D movies so I’ll never know. Also, I was flabbergasted to find out that Danny Elfman did the score to this movie. The music in this film sounds like it rolled off of an assembly line.
Even though the majority of this review comes off as negative, Goosebumps isn’t terrible. The film is mostly an excuse to jump from monster set piece to monster set piece, and all of that is probably a hoot if you’re ten years old and don’t care about an actual plot. The CGI is certainly acceptable for a kid movie of this caliber, and there’s even a smattering of decent jokes for the grown-ups in the audience. I don’t really recommend it, but it’s not torturous to sit through. It’s just a sliver below mediocre. Honestly, if you feel the need to subject your kid to something akin to Goosebumps but is actually worthwhile, make them watch The Monster Squad or The Gate. Or, if they’re young enough, buy them some Goosebumps books.