Monster House (2006) / Animation-Adventure

MPAA Rated: PG for scary images, some crude humor, and mild language
Running Time: 91 min.

Cast: Mitchel Musso, Sem Lerner, Spencer Locke, Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard, Jason Lee, Kevin James, Nick Cannon, Kathleen Turner
Director: Gil Kenan
Screenplay: Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, Pamela Pettler
Review published July 21, 2006

Back in the earlier days of 3D computer animated films, perhaps Monster House would have been enough of a novelty to thrill us from an eye-candy aspect alone.  By today's more sophisticated standards, it takes more than just vivid animation to thrill us, as we've seen some very realistic effects in most of today's blockbusters, many of them far more impressive than those rendered in this film.  We need a good story to go along with the effects, or at the very least, great fun, and Monster House doesn't have much of either. 

The plot is fairly simple.  DJ (voiced by Mitchel Musso, "Hannah Montana")  is a precocious young boy on the verge of turning teen that is sure something is amiss about the ominous house across the street, owned by the cantankerous curmudgeon, Nebbercracker (Buscemi, The Island).  In fact, he thinks it may be alive and eats things -- including people.  His parents think he is just a little too imaginative, as does his babysitter and the local cops that are called in.  His best friend Chowder (Lerner, Envy) believes him, and along with their new associate, a salesgirl named Jenny (Locke, "Phil of the Future"), they seek to try to put a stop to the house before harm can befall anyone else. 

The realistic movements of the characters are probably the best thing about the film, crafted through a motion capture process, similar to the one producer Robert Zemeckis used in his other 3D animated film, The Polar Express.  The rendering of the human characters is adequate, although certainly not the best of its type, but the motion capture does allow for some very swift, lifelike body language to give the characters the semblance of a lively personality.  The sound effects and music are also impressive, and along with the well-cast voice actors, it definitely had all of the elements in place for a good family film that might offer a few laughs and scares for young and old.

Unfortunately, what we have here is a thin story served up merely as an excuse to showcase the special effects.  There is a mystery behind the house's odd behavior, revealed about halfway through, but it is barely dealt with, and there's almost no explanation into the hows and whys of it.  We're merely supposed to take it for granted that supernatural forces are in play.  It doesn't help that the story is also a bit depressing for a film of this nature, as if it belonged to a completely different, more somber and unsettling movie.

Monster House plays out like a children's book that was never fleshed out, injecting special effects sequences to fill out the running time to feature length.  It looks good, it sounds good, but underneath the surface, it's a soulless, hollow-hearted diversion that has neither the intelligence nor wit to be anything more than a completely mechanical experience for most discerning audiences. It's creepy alright, but where is the fun?

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo