Cursed into the form of a talking cartoon fish by a half-mad deity known only as the Writer, the Infallible Fish has no idea who he is, or where he comes from, all he does know is that he has a burning urge to watch some animated stuff.
Fish? Fish! Where are you? The reviews meant to have started. Fish? What are you doing under the bed?
Writer? Quick get under here before it notices you.
Notices me? What will notice me?
The house you idiot, it’s alive and it’s going to eat us! Now get under here!
But it can’t eat me, I’m just a disembodied voice in italics, I’m not actually here.
Oh, right. Well get lost before it notices me then.
Look, what’s put this silly notion in your head about the house being alive?
There was film, a terribly deceptive film, I thought it would be ok, it looked like your typical kids film. It started so nicely, with this wonderful bit of animation as we followed this leaf fluttering down an ordinary street. Everything appeared to be perfectly fine, with annoying little girls, cantankerous old men and kids spying on their neighbours (Ok, that was kind of creepy), but slowly the film revealed its true monstrous self. A film where old men have heart attacks, people get eaten left, right and centre, there’s nightmare inducing imagery, and, oh God, stereotypical comedy police officers, the horror!
Get a hold of yourself Fish! This is only the second film you’ve reviewed. You can’t be beaten so easily, I have so many horrific tortures planned for you, you can’t let them go to waste.
You’re not exactly selling me on this reviewing thing you know.
Let me put it this way, I know you can review this film, I believe in you Fish.
You do? You know no one’s ever said that to me before, I almost feel as if I could review this…
Besides if you don’t I’m going to write the most obnoxious comedy sidekick in existence to join you for all future reviews.
Let’s review Monster House!
Firstly, just let me say, I like this movie, I really do, but this is not a film for small children. Mature children should be able to handle it with the least amount of nightmares though. This film gets dark in parts (not Coraline levels of dark, but still) so just go in forewarned.
So, what’s this movie actually about? DJ lives across from Mr. Nebbercracker, a grouchy old man who hates having kids on his lawn, always confiscating or breaking anything that happens to land on his precious turf. But all is not as it appears, as DJ and his friends soon discover that Nebbercracker’s house is possessed. They have to find a way to defeat this ‘Monster House’, and quickly, as Halloween is fast approaching, which could quickly turn into an all-you-can-eat buffet for said house.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the animation in this movie. It’s really good, some parts are absolutely gorgeous, the opening scene with the leaf for example. Or the scene were the house’s shadow creeps into DJ’s room, turning the room red as the shadow transforms into a hand, getting ready to grab DJ (I said this wasn’t as dark as Coraline didn’t I? My mistake). The motion of the characters is great too, especially during the action sequences.
There is one odd thing about the animation though, it’s the hair. It’s stuck on, permanently rigid, like the hair of Lego men. There’s not an ounce of sway or bob of movement. I know hair can be a pain to animate, but it kind of sticks out when you just don’t animate it (well it does for me anyway).
The greatest part of this film animation though, is something that is often forgotten when it comes to animation, the cinematography. A lot of time in animation, most of the attention goes on the actual animation, making sure that the characters and surroundings move realistically, to make it as believable as possible. That’s good, that’s what should be done, but after all of that people tend to forget about the camera, and just end up plonking it into the scene without all that much thought. This film is shot like an actual flesh-and-blood film would be shot. The angles, the framing, even the motion of the camera, all of it works to make this world feel even more real, and not just a bunch of models on someone’s computer.
Then we have our cast, and these kids are great. DJ (‘cause actual names are uncool bro I just have initials now, that’s how cool I is), Chowder (because calling him Fat Kid felt a little too on the nose) and Jenny (‘cause Penny was already taken). I joke, but this film gives off a strange 80s/early 90s vibe for me. What with the dark elements, the excessive explosions and violence in the finale, the Home Alone style antics, and these kids feeling like every other kid trope from that time (from the exterior anyway). But, once you get to know these kids, you realise they’re not just tropes, they’re actual characters. They act like real kids, they get scared like real kids, and they’re smart like…some kids are. It also helps that they’re really funny. There are no catchphrases, or zany antics, it’s all done by rather subtle dialogue. From DJ’s breathless astonishment at being kissed by a girl (even though he’s currently risking his life to blow up a possessed house, well at least he can die happy I suppose), to Jenny’s negotiations with the babysitter, to Chowder’s…just Chowder. He’s both stupid and endearing all at the same time. I love that kid.
The rest of the cast is where things falter slightly, not much, just a step or two. Because you see, it’s the kids that get all of the depth in this film. The adults are all pretty much just stereotypes, a little more three-dimensional than cardboard cut-outs, but not by that much. They’re funny every now and again, but there’s no detail to the characters, nothing to make them stand out a great deal from their counterparts in other films. But, then they’re not the focus of this film, so I suppose that’s ok. The best characters of the adults are probably Bones, who feels like a genuine jackass, Zee the babysitter is smart (though girl I gotta hope you get past this Bones groupie phase real soon, he just ain’t right for you), and I like the creepy old neighbour Nebbercracker. I also think it’s a nice moral about Nebbercracker too. I like that he turned out to be a good person, and having a reason for acting so nasty. It’s a really tragic back story as well, and one that adds some emotional heft to all the scares and action. Now I know not every grumpy old man has a reason for being that way, but this movie teaches us that maybe we should look a little deeper before judging.
Now this film starts off small but gets progressively bigger, it does a really good job of building up the threat, then delivering on that threat, and then making the threat even more terrifying until we reach a truly epic (if completely over the top) finale.
The film starts its turn towards the dark when DJ gives old man Nebbercracker a heart attack, and you get to enjoy the horror of the whole thing, all the way through when he falls on top of DJ, pinning him to the lawn (no cutaways here, enjoy the terror my friends), to when the ambulance wheels his body away. This leaves DJ rightly disturbed about the fact that he’s just killed a man, something I give the film credit for, being willing to give some attention to.
Now these are smart kids, and once they realise something is wrong they tell the grownups, starting with the babysitter, then the police. Oh God, the police, I’m sure someone will find these pair of imbeciles funny, but I certainly don’t. They’re ok at first, but they slowly grate on me. Saying that they did do one joke that I found funny, when one of them says they’ll phone for back up, the other one pointing out that the only other officer is Joan at reception. Anyway, so when neither of those options work out, the kids decide to settle this themselves. They start by stealing some cold medicine (Wait a minute, I thought I said these kids were smart?), as part of a plan to put the house to sleep so they can sneak inside.
Yeah, I’m all for independent kids and improvised Home Alone style solutions, but stealing drugs? Really? Any other dangerous ideas you want to implant in impressionable young minds? Explosives? Why not? Hey let’s go the whole hog and throw in some knives and guns, I’m sure the parents won’t mind. Oh, is that too far? Ok, we’ll just stick with the explosives then.
The nightmare fuel properly gets under way when the kids, trapped inside a police car, are swallowed by the house (in a really energetically animated, if terrifying scene). They explore the inside of the house, eventually getting captured by evil slinkies and sinister pipes, and dropped into a gaping maw of rotating teeth (Are you terrified yet? I know I am.)
Then the film decides, heck we’re animated, we can do whatever the hell we want. I imagine the conversation regarding the finale went something like this:
“Let’s have the house start walking around.”
“Ooh yeah, then we can have it chasing after the kids, smashing through all kinds of things.”
“Then, wait for it…we have the house fight a big mechanical digger.”
“Awesome. Then, to finish it off, we can have DJ throw dynamite down the chimney, wait for it…while swinging on a wrecking ball.”
Yeah, as written by a committee of five year olds, and it’s…it’s… Good Lord is it exhilarating. Yes it’s so over the top sharks are flying in formation alongside it, it’s so action cliché it’s funny, but there can be no better ending for this film.
This film is great, a lovely Halloween treat (I know Halloween’s already gone), just make sure you check it before you show it to the little ones, or else the trick might be on you.
There, I did it, I reviewed the movie.
Feel better now?
Are you going to come out from under the bed now?
You’re sure the house isn’t alive, and isn’t going to eat me.
And you’re not going to write some obnoxious sidekick to join me on future reviews?
Of course not.
Ok, then, I’ll come out. Now, about these horrific tortures you have planned for me.
Oh look at the time, gotta go, see you in two weeks.
Hey wait a minute! See you in two weeks folks, I’ve got a Writer to hunt down. Get back here!
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.