R. L. Stine has been dubbed as the Stephen King of the children’s horror genre, which sounds like a fair assessment. The recent-film even makes playful quips regarding the comparison. After all, between King and Stine, nobody has done more for horror in literature in recent times. Not only did they make books that sell well, but they made a lot of them. King made so many books in his time he was able to make a fake persona for himself and start a career as Richard Bachman. Meanwhile, Stine, on the other-side of the fence, seemed like he had a new book every other week for awhile. In-retrospect, how were Stine’s books? A lot were derivative of old science-fiction and monster films, done in a way more presentable to young reader, but they caught on and found a legacy of their own. His books were always far from literary masterpieces, but they acted as a bridge for young-readers to ready themselves for more mature and original works. In a lot of ways, he’s more like a kid-friendly version of Charles Band with material that’s filled with camp and unassuming, modest entertainment. It’s old-school, classic horror for kids, and it’s easy to love him for, I know I loved him for it, and that love hasn’t diminished. I was very excited for this Goosebumps film.
The film follows a teenager named Zachary Cooper who has moved to a new school and a new town. Set in Madison, Delaware, the story moves at a very rapid-pace and doesn’t waste its time. It’s told like something straight out of a Goosebump manuscript, with familiar themes that are done in ways that are still briskly entertaining. He soon meets his next-door neighbor named Hannah, as well as her mean-seeming father, played by Jack Black, R. L. Stine. Stine sends fair-warning to the boy about staying away from his daughter, but as fate would have it, they become friends and havoc ensues. This all leads to Zachary inadvertently setting free Stine’s monsters loose. I’ll leave the description vague, because you can gather the gist of it from the trailers that have been shown.
Jack Black‘s almost always a fun-actor and this is no different. Instead of doing a realistic portrayal of Stine, he plays an over-the-top character that’s isolated from reality. In an episode of The Daily Show, Black credited Orson Welles as his inspiration. Everybody else does about what you’d expect from a family-fun fair, displaying competence and capability, but not really going overboard with things that, frankly, children wouldn’t care too much about. I will say though, this film might have more heart than some might expect. They don’t flatly say it, but an undertone is that R. L. Stine‘s character blocked himself from the world around him, and since he didn’t have friends, he made his own, and believed in them enough that they became real. And now, as he’s grown up and his hatred and anger has lessened, the characters are a personification of himself ‘battling his demons’.
Like I said, that’s not really how it’s done, because they keep it as a light, family affair, but the concept has some depth. The film’s humor is mostly the kind-of stuff that kids would laugh at, but it has some laughs in it that will charm adults as well. The computer-generated imagery is flashy, but not repetitiously so, and works well, and while taking a more action-y approach, the film’s very willing to accept and embrace itself for what it is and/or was.
I could criticize the film’s cheesier characters and performances, but there isn’t really much reason to. The film’s marketed at children, and children enjoyed it, and while I could have dealt without some scenes, they never hindered or acted as detriment to the film itself. I credit a lot of that to the film’s pacing which never gives anyone the time to think.
I’d call it a sure-fire success, because Goosebumps is fun and that’s the only thing the film was ever meant to be. It’s a very fun, imaginative, and entertaining ride…