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Even for a 12-year old, D.J. Walters has a particularly overactive imagination. He is convinced that his haggard and crabby neighbor Horace Nebbercracker, who terrorizes all the neighborhood kids, is responsible for Mrs. Nebbercracker's mysterious disappearance. Any toy that touches Nebbercracker's property, promptly disappears, swallowed up by the cavernous house in which Horace lives. D.J. has seen it with his own eyes! But no one believes him, not even his best friend, Chowder. What everyone does not know is D.J. is not imagining things. Everything he's seen is absolutely true and it's about to get much worse than anything D.J could have imagined.
The spooky shadows and eerie creaking of a rickety old house are brought to life via lush CGI in Monster House. A young boy named DJ has suspicions about the house across the street and the cranky old man (voiced by Steve Buscemi, Fargo) who lives there. When the old man has a heart attack and is carried away by an ambulance, DJ thinks the danger is over. Unfortunately, as he, his friend Chowder, and a candy-selling prep-school girl named Jenny discover, the house itself has plans--plans that include eating all the kids who'll be trick-or-treating that Halloween night. Monster House begins with some deliciously creepy scenes that will send chills down children's spines (and may be too intense for younger viewers); animated movies rarely make such effective use of what isn't being shown. The animation is vivid and detailed (though CGI still has a ways to go in capturing the full range of human facial expressions). But like most horror movies, the anticipation of horror is much more exciting than the horror itself; as the secrets of Monster House are revealed, the movie's thrills unravel. The noisy explosions at the end aren't half as much fun as the slow twitches of a few blades of grass in the movie's elegant beginning. --Bret Fetzer
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The Art of Monster House
Stills from Monster House (click for larger image)
- Filmmaker Commentary
- 7 Featurettes including: Imaginary Heroes, Beginner's Luck, The Best of Friends, Lots of Dots, Black Box Theater, Making It Real, Did You Hear That?
- Evolution of a scene: Eliza vs. Nebbercracker
- The Art of Monster House - Photo Gallery
- DVD-ROM Link to Games, Downloads & Activities
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In this particular neighborhood, that house is across the street from DJ (voice of Mitchel Musso) and is owned by Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi). He's convinced that something strange is happening there, but he can never get any adults to believe him.
One day, his friend Chowder (Sam Lerner) loses his ball on the lawn. While trying to get it back, the two friends upset Nebbercracker. When the conflict sends Nebbercracker to the hospital, the boys think they have their chance to find out what is really happening. But spying from across the street becomes a full out assault when a girl scout named Jenny (Spencer Locke) gets her cookies eaten by the house. Have they been seeing things, or is the house really alive? Will anyone ever believe them?
I had a feeling from the previews I wouldn't like this film. I was sorry to be proved correct.
The story looks like it is aimed at kids, but it really isn't. The story features a baby sitter who has a heavy make out session with her stoner boyfriend who won't stop making out when asked, a main character who thinks he's killed an adult, and plenty of shocking and horrifying scenes. Kids under 10 or 12 will get nightmares. The movie should have been rated PG-13.
Unfortunately, this movie doesn't work for adults, either. The characters are very shallow and we don't really come to care for any of them. The plot has been done before and better in other movies making the scares very predictable if you've seen other haunted house movies. To top it off, the animation is stylized but just comes off looking plasticy.
Skip this movie. It won't satisfy anyone who watches it.
"Monster House" follows DJ, whose left with a neglectful babysitter when his parents go out of town for a day or two. DJ is utterly convinced that there's something sinister going on in the house across the street, and he recruits his dorky best friend Chowder to help him figure out what's going on. When a girl named Jenny is nearly eaten by the house, she reluctantly joins the boys in their quest to find out the truth about the house, its cranky and aged occupant, and whether the two are linked somehow. As Halloween approaches and the house seems to be growing more and more restless, the three kids must find some way to convince the skeptical adults of their neighborhood that the house is alive and hungry... or, failing that, take matters into their own hands before more fall victim to the house's strange hunger...
The animation of this film is done in motion-capture CGI, a technique best known for its use (misuse?) in films like "The Polar Express" and "Mars Needs Moms." In those films the motion-capture ends up creating lifelike but dead-looking characters, ones that are just realistic enough to look creepy and just off enough to unsettle the viewer. "Monster House" mostly thwarts this by making the characters look much more stylized, so that the movements seem realistic but the features don't fall straight into the uncanny valley. There are a few off moments, but for the most part this film escapes the uncanny-valley trap that made "Polar Express" look so bland and unsettling. The autumn-in-suburbia backgrounds are well-rendered and help give the film a sense of atmosphere as well.
The characters aren't terribly fleshed-out -- and Jenny comes off the worst, given little backstory and seemingly dropped into the film just to ensure the token-girl-teammate slot is filled in -- but they're still given unique characterizations and will be relatable to most kids. They also represent the frustrations many kids tend to have about their lives -- the sense that no one takes them seriously and everything important they have to say is blown off as silly. I'm sure many, kids and teens and adults alike, have felt this frustration, and can identify with DJ and his friends.
And much like some of the classic kids-adventure films of the 80s and 90s -- "ET," "The Goonies," "Home Alone," "The Sandlot" -- this movie is a spirited adventure story that kids and adults alike will enjoy. There's something satisfying about watching a kid triumph where many adults would either give up or believe nothing is happening, and watching this film brings back fond memories of some of those films for me. The fact that the film seems to take place in the '80s itself (never explicitly stated but the presence of arcades, cassette tapes, early metal/grunge, etc. set the feel) adds to this appeal.
While a good kids' Halloween/horror film, this film is also a fascinating throwback to the kids-adventure films of an earlier era, as well as a fun coming-of-age story for its pre-teen protagonists. And while it may not be the greatest animated film of the 2000s, it deserves more recognition.