Monster House (2006)

Genres - Action, Children's/Family  |   Sub-Genres - Children's Fantasy, Creature Film, Haunted House Film  |   Release Date - Jul 21, 2006 (USA)  |   Run Time - 86 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Derek Armstrong

Monster House is a glorious return to form for exec producers (and masters of escapism) Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis -- and within the realm of computer animation, it's a welcome respite from the assembly line of movies in which zoo animals team up together. Gil Kenan's wellspring of imagination hearkens back to such Spielberg-produced classics as Gremlins and The Goonies, and it shares a motion-capture technology with Zemeckis' most recent directorial effort, The Polar Express. But Zemeckis has learned from the criticisms directed at Express. These animators have designed the characters as stylized versions of the vocal talent, rather than attempting the photo-realistic recreations of Express, which gave Tom Hanks a kind of zombie look. Monster House is indeed a technical marvel, its colors vibrant, its camera swooping through the frame (especially the opening, which follows a blowing leaf and a singing girl on a tricycle). But to focus just on that would short-change this terrific story, which is both funnier and scarier than children's movies usually get to be. In fact, so edgy is the script (by Dan Harmon, Pamela Pettler, and Rob Schrab), that it's almost more adult-oriented than child-oriented. There's real darkness and danger in this world of absentee parents, but there are also real children, real babysitters, and real video-game geeks -- this last a memorable cameo voiced by Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder. Bringing the marvelous dialogue to life are Maggie Gyllenhaal as the punked-out sitter, Jason Lee as her sketchy boyfriend, Steve Buscemi as a crotchety neighbor, and child actor Sam Lerner, whose spasmodic best friend falls somewhere between Eric Cartman and Chunk from The Goonies. The film's one failing is Nick Cannon's mouthy black police officer, whose character design and persona are uncharitable almost to the point of racist. Fortunately, the rest of Monster House is so good that it overpowers any such hiccups. Its star, the anthropomorphic mansion with the living lawn and the wooden jaws, is as creative a monster as Hollywood has produced in years.