‘Monster House’ provides animated thrills for all ages | TahoeDailyTribune.com

‘Monster House’ provides animated thrills for all ages

Howie Nave
Although no adults will believe them, three children realize a neighbor's house is really a monster. They must find a way to stop the house and save the neighborhood in "Monster House."

If the Oscars were given out this week for Best Animated Feature, I would say it would go to “Monster House.” Up until this animated release, I was saying “Cars” was the hands-down favorite, but this movie at this point halfway through the year would win.

First-time feature director Gil Kenan hits a home run with this animated project produced by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg. Man, if that isn’t pressure to get your first feature off the ground, I don’t know what is! But deliver he does, and once again advances the art of animation to another level. Talk about being at the right place and all.

The young Kenan received positive accolades for his 2002 UCLA senior-year short called “The Lark,” about a mean-spirited house that’s actually alive. It was a live-action/animated horror fantasy, and immediately caught the attention of industry insiders, and now here he is a few years later working with the likes of Zemeckis and Spielberg. Big difference, though, going from an animated short to a feature-length motion picture. The animation here is incredible, and the process seen here was first popularized by Zemeckis in “The Polar Express,” which starred Tom Hanks, so no mere coincidence that Kenan found a mentor with Bob Zemeckis, but still. The pressure riding on this project must be enormous on the shoulders of the 29-year-old UCLA grad.

There was a time not too long ago when the mere mention of the word “animated” conjured up either groans from those looking for a movie but didn’t wants kids in the picture, or oohs and ahs from parents finding a movie that would be perfect to take their kids to. Well, animation has taken on a whole new meaning since those days – and not just the actual art form, either, but the storylines attached to the artwork. Studios are well aware that parents would like to stay awake while entertaining their kids watching an animated flick, and “Monster House” definitely entertains on several different levels while playing on the fears of what lurks in the place one calls their sanctuary.

Make no bones about it, “Monster House” is not for the very young, so be forewarned. Those with small tykes would be best advised to not have them watch unless you want to give them a few potential nightmares along the way. Oh, what the hell, nothing a little therapy can’t cure, right? Heck, there was a time growing up when I was afraid to open certain rooms in the house I was living in. We moved around a lot as a kid, so I always had this recurring nightmare that whatever house we were in wasn’t happy that the former family had to move out to make room for us. Not just monsters under the bed or in the closet, but the entire house! Maybe that’s why Halloween is my favorite holiday.

Keeping that Halloween theme alive here for a moment, have you ever asked yourself when is it too late to go trick or treating? “Never!” I would say.

With that we are introduced to DJ (voiced by Mitchel Musso) and his best friend, Chowder (voiced by Sam Lerner), and the “girl,” Jenny (voiced by Spencer Locke). It’s interesting, too, that the three characters reminded me of the “Harry Potter” principal characters, down to the personalities of those three best friends. Whatever the case, it’s a nice homage to them.

DJ lives across from the scariest resident this side of Elm Street. The resident is not another person, but a living and breathing house that devours just about everything that is within its reach. I’ve seen movies where there were scary things going on in the backyard or definitely in the basement of a house, but the whole house as a character? Oh, yeah. It’s voiced by Kathleen Turner and not picky about what satisfies her appetite.

The three kids try to convince others about their discovery, only to have it fall on deaf ears. Babysitter Zee (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the police (Kevin James and Nick Cannon) and Reginald Skulinski who goes by the name, “Skull” (voiced by “Napoleon Dynamite’s” Jon Heder) are some of the characters the kids try to convince about the house but, alas, no such luck.

The movie boasts a great cast of voices, too, which includes Steve Buscemi as the nasty neighbor Old Man Nebbercracker, Jason Lee, the always-wonderful Catherine O’Hara as the Mom, and Fred Willard as Dad. Talk about perfect vocal casting.

The “look” of the picture is dark and very twisted, too. Older kids and adults will find the macabre storyline very entertaining. The true star, hands-down, is the house. The exterior of its face is haunting, with the windows as eyes and the door with a very big appetite. There’s even a tongue-like carpet with frog-like snatching capabilities that greets the unsuspecting.

All in all, this animated flick may be marketed to the younger set, but the adults are going to appreciate the fun of this movie. It’s a ride that you won’t want to disembark anytime soon.

– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada, including the Sirius Radio Network every Sunday evening. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV Channel 8.

Keepin’ it Reel

Now playing: “Monster House”

Starring: Ryan Newman, Steve Buscemi, Mitchel Musso, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, Sam Lerner, Woody Schultz, Ian McConnel, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, Spencer Locke, Kevin James, Nick Cannon, Jon Heder and Kathleen Turner

Directed by: Gil Kenan

Rated: PG for scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor and brief language

Length: 92 minutes

Howie gives it: 5 out of 5 bagels

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