Bringing Down the House

Well, I got my early treat. I just saw the non-Pixar animated feature “Monster House” and I think it’s the most fun Halloween-themed movie in a long time. Well, it’s basically about a house that’s also … uhm … a monster. Okay, that was too easy. Let me start over.

On the verge of puberty, DJ (Mitchel Musso) is at that age where he thinks he’s too grown-up to be supervised by a babysitter (Maggie Gyllenhaal). But when the house across the street is the movie’s titular subject, he’s bound to be scared like a little boy. The old-looking house, which has monstrous appetite of anything that land on the premises, is well-guarded by a crabby old man named Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi). But when DJ accidentally “murders” Nebbercracker, the house is free to do anything demonic as long as it’s guard-free. It’s up to DJ and his pals Chowder (Sam Lerner) and Jenny (Spencer Locke) to bring the house down.

I think “Monster House” is the most standout among the computer animated films released this year. So okay, it’s the only one I’ve seen this year so far, but the others have that been-there-done-that feel to them. They tend to follow the same formula: famous actors giving exaggerated voice performances behind animals or inanimate objects. It’s a good formula, only if it doesn’t get old. But with the saturation of these films, I’m going to pass until the genre gives me something new. “Monster House,” on the other hand, is quite refreshing in the way celebrity voices are only used in supporting roles. This wonderfully brings the three vital characters (voiced by unknown child actors) to the forefront. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even aware that “Monster House” had an all-star voice cast because the characters hardly resemble their corresponding voice actors. The result: the viewer is invested in the characters rather than being distracted as to who’s the celebrity behind the voice.

While I thought the movie’s plot was just okay, “Monster House” is quite exceptional in establishing its tricky tone and mood. Even if the look of the film is definitely horror, the movie surprisingly plays out like a comedic adventure. I thought it’s constantly hilarious, without bringing attention to itself to be laughed at. I enjoyed how the kids are unpretentiously real. Their dialogue and attitude ring true for me. I laughed because I could, more or less, relate. Of course, the movie also has its fair share of scares, but I think it’s more at the level for younger audiences. The animation is wonderful. I love the entire look and the characters’ doll-like appearance. The usage of the performance-capture technology amazingly improves the movie, since the characters achieve more fluid and human-like motions. And when I watched the DVD’s special features, I didn’t realize that there’s a cool trick, where the film can have a shaky effect as if it’s being shot by a hand-held camera. Pretty neat. “Monster House” is quite the achievement. I hope it gets nominated for Oscar, or even better, win it. Again, I’m being biased because it’s only the animated movie I’ve watched so far. But I can confirm that “Monster House,” is a movie monster since it ate all of my boredom and misery in seconds.

Grade: A-

Cast of Voice Talents
Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner, Spencer Locke, Steve Buscemi, Nick Cannon, Maggie Gllyenhaal, Jon Heder, Kevin James, Jason Lee, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, and Kathleen Turner
Screenplay by
Dan Harmon
Rob Schrab
Pamela Pettler
Directed by
Gil Kenan
Rated PG for scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor and brief language.