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Monster House

In the age of movies as financial entities, it"s hard to see precisely which "group"--age or otherwise--Monster House appeals to. But one possible explanation is that, aside from the loud-criers "group," it may just appeal to everyone.


It"s Halloween Eve in suburbia, and while most of the neighborhood kids are gearing up for a candy extravaganza, two young"uns--DJ (voiced by Mitchell Musso) and Chowder (voiced by Sam Lerner)--are fretting and dreading. They"re convinced that the decrepit house across the street is in fact a monster house inhabited by an old hermit named Nebbercracker (voiced by Steve Buscemi) that will lure kids in on Halloween night. But just as DJ"s parents, who naturally don"t believe him to begin with, leave for a vacation, DJ inadvertently sends Nebbercracker to his death--or so he fears. Now DJ believes Nebbercracker"s monster house will seek revenge on him specifically, and to make matters worse, his negligent babysitter (voiced by Maggie Gyllenhaal) won"t hear of his yapping. After DJ and Chowder are forced to take action, they, along with a girl peddling candy (voiced by Spencer Locke), discover how the monster came to be and just how unforgiving she is.


When it comes to animation acting, the main goal is to make audiences forget that the actors are giving their performances in a studio, possibly dressed in their PJs and sans makeup. That goal"s usually achieved, but Monster House takes a gamble in supposing that child actors, comprising the lead characters, will be able to wrap their still-expanding brains around the concept. Somehow, Lerner and Musso grasp this despite sounding like they haven"t even been in this world very long! The two are surrounded by a fail-proof supporting cast: it takes a while to recognize Buscemi"s voice as Nebbercracker, but once it hits, it fits, and Gyllenhaal as the babysitter is great, if unpredictable, casting. Quasi-cameos from Jason Lee as Gyllenhaal"s punk boyfriend, Jon Heder as a video-game god and Kevin James and Nick Cannon as slow-moving and -thinking cops garner the most laughs.


Not only does it help a film"s box office performance to have Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis onboard as executive producers, it helps a film"s director--in this case a rookie director named Gil Kenan. (Zemeckis directed "04"s somewhat similar-looking The Polar Express.) While the animation doesn"t quite stand up to, say, Pixar"s earth-shattering visuals, Kenan makes up for it with a fun-filled story (from scripters Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab and Pamela Pettler) and an overall lively, involved effort--and it"s not like the movie doesn"t still look gorgeous. Besides, sometimes it"s refreshing to not be so entranced by the CGI that you lose sight of the actual movie at hand. Kenan"s film is one of the scarier animated movies in a while, but that still doesn"t exclude many age groups. What the first-time director thrives on is stopping just shy of true horror moments, at which point he reverts to feel-good mode without ever being sappy.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.