A family film honoring the book series Goosebumps, with Jack Black as the author R.L. Stine. The monsters escape from his book and terrorize a village.
Goosebumps the book series has always been a big success among teenagers, because it combines tantalizing horror figures such as vampires, werewolves and ghosts with exciting stories, without drugs, sex or much violence. The movie is likewise so, making it typically a film for parents to take their younger teenagers along for a weekend afternoon.
The main characters in Goosebumps are always kids who end up in some unknown location, like a new school or a camping spot, and are then confronted with a supernatural danger. The film embraces multiple Goosebumps episodes and is like a pastiche of the series. If you are familiar with the books, you could identify the individual ones in the film, but we don’t need to be familiar with them to have a good time.
Following a standard Goosebumps setup, we meet a teenager, Zach (Dylan Minnette) who just moved from New York to the countryside. He meets his new neighbor, a girl named Hannah (Odeya Rush) and her mysterious father (Jack Black) who turns out to be the writer R.L. Stine. Who is also the author of the Goosebumps series. After some misunderstandings, Zach and Hannah accidentally open one of Stine’s books, who have a magical power to bring the monsters in the text to life. One of the monsters, the creepy doll Slappy, is angry because of his long incarceration in the book and vows revenge by opening all the other books. The village is then overwhelmed by monsters. Of course, the police and other normal grownups are useless and it is up to Zach, Hannah and Stine to solve the problem.
The film starts small. There are no monsters and Zach and his mother are established quite well as characters, so that you get dragged into the story. This is handled well. Although Jack Black’s name is writ large on the poster, the film is not so much about him. Although he is very present once he appears on the screen, but that is how we know him. It is very funny film, but surprisingly it is not Jack Black who adds the humor. It is the dialogues that make it funny, so that Dylan Minnette and Odeya Rush also have the opportunity to work on their own characters and are not overshadowed by Black.
Goosebumps is a success right there where it counts: comedy and action. It isn’t all that scary, but there is a nice pacing to the film and there are lots of nice action ideas. The story is rather chaotic though. They tried to squeeze in as many references to the books as they could; about twenty books are plundered for the monsters. You get the feeling that the characters run from one scene to the next and that’s a bit tiring.
There are also some references to other movies, like The Blob and to Jack Black’s earlier flopped movie Gulliver’s Travels, which was not so incidentally also by the same director, Rob Letterman. This film is a much better effort. Other small things don’t work well in the movie. There are some halfhearted references to social media to speak to teenagers, and the ending is very predictable. And Jillian Bell who plays Aunt Lorraine is perhaps the scariest thing about the movie.
The action and comedy are strong. However, the more you think about the movie, the more small problems become apparent. The special effects aren’t consistent in quality and there is a lot of advertisements for the books. But there is also a nice theme in it about the power of books and the use of your imagination. The little problems don’t hurt the film much.