Monster House

2006, Movie, PG, 91 mins

Review

MONSTER HOUSE
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An animated Halloween set released in the dead of summer — way to scare up viewers! Not quite a boy, still not yet a man, D.J. (Mitchel Musso) isn't happy about being saddled with a babysitter when his parents head out of town for a dentistry conference. Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who shows up listening to Olivia Newton-John and wearing a pink sweater, isn't particularly understanding, and once she realizes the parental units have left the premises she sheds her girlie-girlie look for head-to-toe black, refuses to answer to anything but "Zee" and invites her boyfriend, Bones (Jason Lee), to come over. D.J.'s efforts to confide in Zee his awful suspicion that he killed crotchety neighbor Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), fall on deaf ears. He didn't mean to do it: He was just trying to retrieve a ball that landed on Mr. Nebbercracker's pristine lawn, and in the struggle Mr. Nebbercracker had a heart attack. As far as Bones, who lost his beloved kite to Nebbercracker some years earlier, is concerned, D.J. is a hero for ridding the neighborhood of that spiteful sourpuss. D.J.'s best pal, Chowder (Sam Lerner), saw everything — including the ambulance that subsequently sped away in silence — and argues that even if Nebbercracker is dead, D.J. isn't a murderer; it's manslaughter because the whole thing was an accident. D.J. derives little comfort from that distinction, but doesn't start getting seriously creeped out until the first phone call from Mr. Nebbercracker's empty house. Stranger still, D.J. and Chowder see the house start trying to eat things, like puppies and enterprising schoolgirl Jenny (Spencer Locke), with its vicious front-carpet tongue and jagged plywood teeth. The boys manage to save Jenny, but it goes without saying that there isn't an adult in town willing to believe that the kids' outlandish story is anything more than some kind of Halloween prank. So Chowder, Jenny and D.J. join forces to "kill" the house before it starts feasting on unwary trick-or-treaters. While the film's animated images are astonishingly detailed and it pulls off a couple of good scares, the delicate balance between cute and creepy that makes THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993) an enduring favorite among audiences young and old is conspicuously absent. Surprisingly enough, puberty-stricken D.J. and Chowder actually sound like real teenagers, but the cartoony look will probably alienate real-life kids that age, and the man-eating house might be downright terrifying to younger kids. Though the majority of MONSTER HOUSE prints were flat, it was released simultaneously in 3D to select theaters. leave a comment --Angel Cohn

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