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monster house
Click for full sized poster

Monster House

Starring Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jon Heder, Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard
Screenplay by Dan Harmon & Rob Schrab and Pamela Pettler Story by Dan Harmon & Rob Schrab
Directed by Gil Kenan

IN SHORT: Fine for kidlets. Parental Units won't be bored silly. [Rated PG for scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor and brief language.
91 minutes ]

For reasons we will explain in a 'graph or two, we got into comic books and by extension animated films thanks to the work of artist Gene Colan. Colan, with finishes by inker Tom Palmer, re-envisioned an old Marvel villain as superhero in the pages of Daredevil and the Black Widow, back in the 1970s. Cranky was about fourteen and the Black Widow was pretty darn hot. What has that to do with the new millennia film Monster House? Well, speaking as one now of parenting age of a film well aimed at the high single digit and or just into teen kidlet, for the males of the latter demographic description, the baby sitter is, well, pretty darn hot. We're getting ahead of our self but what it is, is. Monster House is one of those films perfect for those parents willing to sit in the back row while their kidlets frolic down front.

We write for the adult POV, anyhow, and for "us" Monster House is a perfectly adequate movie for adults into 'toons. It is a film built to please the kidlets and as such is just OK. We sat with a room stuffed with kidlets and it was fairly quiet, not due to boredom but because of a difficult choice made to deliver a 'toon that is both funny and scary to the kidlet audience. Built for kidlets means the script isn't deep when it comes to background and setup -- again, when targeted at a demo that won't care, such care isn't necessariy given to the script. That's why we don't put the standard "dollar ratings" on these films. They will please a kidlet who doesn't have much exposure to the big screen and, for the preteen, there's probably enough to keep the parent in the back row engaged. Didn't mean to repeat our self. Sorry.

DJ (Mitchel Musso) is ostensibly the centerpiece of the story. Left home with a baby sitter (Maggie Gyllenhaal) while mom and dad (Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard) go off to do something with oversized teeth and toothbrushes. He hangs out with a tubby best friend nicknamed Chowder (Sam Lerner), and will eventually be joined by a door to door candy salesgirl Jenny (Spencer Locke) while the sitter's boyfriend Bones (Jason Lee) is busy trying to do what sitter's boyfriend's are wont to do. Across the street, strictly out of bounds, is a creaky old house owned by the even creakier old man Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi) -- a man so mean that his basement is filled with confiscated toys and bikes and what not that may have strayed across the property line. Still, old men can be disposed of, and if DJ had been raised with any kind of morals, what happens to Nebbercracker should have evoked an entirely different set of guilt reactions than what the film's script delivers. That hints at more than we should spill but, since we do write for the parents, you'll all have some intersting talking points to cover with your little ones once the film is over. . . and of course there's a happy ending. This is a 'toon aimed at young and pre-teens. No major psychological damage allowed.

The House, you see, appears to have a life of its own. It wouldn't be a "monster" without one, would it? As we first meet it, its grass is as alive as its creaky boards are. Tricycles, balls, what have you are fair prey. So is Bones, who wanders into said house's grip when he thinks he sees a kite he once lost to the monster's maw. Our trio of "heroes" -- Chowder loses a basketball to the house early on and Jenny is almost swallowed up when her sales route takes her across the boundary -- decides to forego the coming Halloween candyfest to investigate what is going on in the house, and figure out how to save the day. This involves sage advice provided by a vidiot slacker (Jon Heder) and a plan to feed so much cough syrup to the house that it will fall asleep, thus allowing exploration.

We didn't say we expected Moby Dick, which is a pretty difficult read in and of its own, just a simple story that isn't a ridiculous sit. That's what we got. A simple story that isn't a ridiculous sit. As a film, though, it is one whose animation background art steals the thunder of the story and lead character animation. Of those characters, and remembering the demo targets, we do compliment the design of Gyllenhaal's babysitter who is, by any twelve year set of eyes, pretty darn hot. <vbg> We drooled over Colan's Black Widow when we were twelve. We could very well imagine any preteen boy doing the same here. When push comes to shove, said babysitter is gravely underused. <and another very big grin to that, too>

That sort of lust is nothing for any parental unit to worry about. Monster House isn't about "that" and "doesn't go there," not really. We're more interested to see if a Halloween theme movie released in July will confuse the tykes. Kidlet interest is high -- our nieces and nephews in the demo are all in summer camp and to a person, all have communicatged via their parents that they'd rather see this film. Apparently, the modern camp experience also includes trips to the nearest mall, so they'll probably get their wish.

Monster House gets a thumbs up -- again, no "dollar ratings" on kidlet flicks -- though we do wonder if the summer release means a possible Halloween DVD outing. As a self-professed 'toonhead, we weren't so blown away by the animation that we'd want to add the film to our collection. We would lug the kidlets, and thus the endorsement.

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