Monster House

on July 21, 2006 by Matt Caracappa
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An eccentric choice for the second-ever film to make use of performance-capture computer animation ("Polar Express" was the first), the book-turned-movie "Monster House" justifies its surely bloated budget in spades. It's hip, it looks cool and it's got a story that will delight audiences of all ages. You usually can't say this about a film without the hyperbole police hot on your trail.

DJ and Chowder are typically awkward best-friend tweens who, after some exposition, decide that the house across the street from DJ is alive and eating people. Their suspicions are correct: We see the house use its carpeting as a tongue to slop up everything from a dog to a police car. But the house is smart -- it knows when to sit still and not blow its cover. It's up to DJ, Chowder and their new pal Jenny to take the house off the market before Halloween rolls around. If they fail, it'll eat all the unsuspecting trick-or-treaters! After all that stuff with the razor blades and apples, Halloween doesn't need this kind of press.

The film shines with characters who feel nothing like cartoons, spouting dialogue with more wit and realism than almost anything you'll see in live-action. It's the characters that give "Monster House" its real meat; the effects, though fantastical, are really just gravy. But what gravy! By the end of the film, when the house uses trees for arms and gains the ability to effectively shimmy, we're looking at a creature as horrifically splendid and awe-inspiring as, one might dare say, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from "Ghostbusters."

A comedy at heart but potentially a kid's first horror movie, "Monster House" is a fine introduction to the young cinephile's realization that you can have a lark in the dark. So long as they can stand the sight of a creepy old house with jagged wooden teeth, bank on a successful Saturday afternoon theater venture. Voiced by Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner, Spencer Locke, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Steve Buscemi. Directed by Gil Kenan. Written by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab. Produced by Jason Clark and Jack Rapke. A Columbia release. Animated comedy. Rated PG for scary images and some crude humor. Running time: 91 min

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