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
Barnes and Noble
The spooky Radley place in To Kill a Mockingbird has nothing on the dread Nebbercracker abode in Monster House. Creepy. Mean. Scary. And that's just old man Nebbercracker (voiced by Steve Buscemi). The house is far, far worse — or so 12-year-old DJ has come to fear. DJ becomes convinced that the house across the street is haunted and somehow alive. The audience already knows as much, as toys and other unfortunate objects disappear into the quicksand-like lawn. To investigate, DJ recruits his best friend, Chopper, the stereotypical chatty, fat sidekick and fellow misfit. They are joined by Jenny, an enterprising, quick-witted door-to-door school fundraiser for whom both boys feel the stirrings of a first adolescent crush. The trio can expect no help from adults who are by turns distracted (DJ's parents, who leave him for the weekend), disdainful (DJ's goth babysitter, voiced by Maggie Gyllenhaal), or disbelieving (two ill-fated cops, voiced by Kevin James and Nick Cannon). On the eve of October 31st, they will have to venture inside the house and destroy its vengeful heart before Halloween revelers get the ultimate trick. The film employs the "performance capture" animation pioneered in The Polar Express, digitally translating the movements of human actors into hyper-realistic animation. The effect is much improved this time out, if only in that the characters don't look like soulless children of the damned. Monster House is rated PG, but younger children may be upset by Nebbercracker's apparently fatal heart attack, which leaves the house unattended, and frightened by the house's attacks on those unfortunate enough to get within range of the carpet that emerges from the front door like a ravenous tongue. The climactic kid-versus-house showdown is particularly intense. Monster House is a thrilling relief from the recent spate of computer-animated talking-animal films. Its irresistible premise, as appealing as the prospect of toys coming to life in Toy Story, will evoke shivers of pleasure in anyone who ever imagined the worst about the eerie house down the street. Donald Liebenson