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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Monster House" (2006)

“Monster House” is the first summer blockbuster this year that had me completely entertained, charmed and excited throughout its running time. Every once in a while I’ll see a movie like this that completely exceeds my expectations, so much so that it’ll put me in such a good mood that I’ll gladly give it the highest star rating. Other than the appearance of Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg in the credits, I had little reason to be more than curious about this animated adventure. The summer has been littered with guilty pleasures, disappointments and movies that “have their moments.” With “Monster House,” I can finally recommend a big summer blockbuster without qualifying it.

Even outside of that, “Monster House” is great fun. It arrives populated with good adult actors who have very little ego and a charming group of kids who fully bring their characters to life, even if their heads might be disproportionate to the rest of their bodies. It’s a computer animated movie that doesn’t try to get by on being lavish and colorful, but real and fun. It doesn’t try to be charming. It just is. While it might put some parents off with its pee jokes, it more than makes up for that with its heart, style and excitement. The kids will love it, as well they should.

The movie starts off being not about the titular house, but about puberty. Young DJ’s voice (Mitchel Musso) has just cracked and his parents (Catherine O’Hara and Fred Willard) give him a little tease. DJ’s parents are leaving the house for the weekend, leaving DJ with the irresponsible punk babysitter, Zee (Maggie Gyllenhaal). DJ hangs out with his goofy friend, Chowder (Sam Lerner). The two play basketball while debating whether or not to go trick or treating this year. Are they getting a little too old for such an activity?

The basketball rolls onto the front lawn across the street where Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi) takes whatever lands on his property and keeps it, but not without scaring the bejeezus out of the kids first. He lives alone in this creepy old house and nobody ever goes near him if they can help it. Of course, DJ and Chowder end up having to trespass onto his property, at which point Mr. Nebbercracker has one too many fits of rage, which lands him in the hospital. Soon, it is discovered by these two kids that the house is possessed, since people seem to go into it without ever coming out. That, and the house makes actual faces.

The plot eventually becomes about trying to kill the house, but along with that the movie introduces a third character, a prep school know-it-all named Jenny (Spencer Locke), who ends up being DJ and Chowder’s unwitting accomplice in their fight against the house, but also the object of their affections. Yes, even with all its haunted house shenanigans, “Monster House” is still about puberty and discovering girls for the first time. But yes, it’s also about trying to kill a rampaging, possessed monster house.

I walked into the film with little knowledge as to who had been cast. I liked that I never gave it much thought and that when I did, I had to guess. Some were easy (the parents), while others came as a surprise when I read the closing credits. What a pleasure it is to see an animated movie that has little star power, an animated movie that picks the right actors, instead of the most marketable. Likewise, the kids talk like real kids and have a great rapport.

The film’s creators seemed to have come out of nowhere. Watching “Monster House,” you’d swear it had been written by Brad Bird (“The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles) and directed by Robert Zemeckis (the opening sequence is either a reference to “Forrest Gump or “The Polar Express.” Take your pick). Instead, the movie comes to us directed by Gil Kenan (debut feature) and written by Dan Harmon (who made a movie called “Laser Fart”) and Rob Schrab (who made a movie called “Robot Bastard!”). Where did this come from? I have to guess that Spielberg and Zemeckis spent a lot more time on this than an executive producer normally would. It must have been fun for the two of them to do something like this for old time sake.

Whatever the case, I’m glad this movie has arrived. Once in a great while, I’ll walk out of a movie knowing I had a great time, but the inner film critic in me will eventually find some slight flaw in the material that would keep me from giving it the highest rating, almost as though it’s wrong to give a movie five stars, simply because it’s a great time. Honestly, though, a great time at the movies is getting harder and harder to come by these days, so I don’t take surprises like this for granted. I had a blast watching “Monster House” and I can’t wait to see it in 3-D. I’m sure it’ll rock in that format, a lot more than “Chicken Little” did.

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