I'm just going to open with two prefaces: One, spoilers ahead. Two, I never read "Goosebumps" as a kid. I know, as a kid of the 90's, this is probably one of my biggest indiscretions, up there with not liking the Power Rangers and not playing with Pogs or Tamogotchis. But I was always a jumpy kid, and reading books bent on creeping me out just didn't seem like my idea of a good time. Of course, I felt like such a wienie getting the movie ticket for something I was supposed to be nostalgic for when I was mostly unfamiliar with the source material. But I thought, "What the heck. I'll go in with an open mind. I need to look at this movie as its own entity, and without the rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia, I can look at this objectively. Is this a movie that can stand on its own? Is it well written? Are the characters complex and interesting? Are the jokes funny? Is there any legitimate drama and pathos?" We entered theater thirteen (Not even joking.) and went to find out.
Um...No, not at all, not really, and absolutely not.
Here's the story: Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mother move to the sleepy town of Madison, Delaware from New York City. Mopey over the recent loss of his dad, Zach broods at school, where the only kid who meets his acquaintance is a loser dweeb named Champ (Ryan Lee). His neighbor, a girl named Hannah (Odeya Rush) becomes an item of interest to Zach, but he notices her father (Jack Black) forbids any contact between them. When Zach worries her father is being abusive, he breaks in and discovers all the original manuscripts of R. L. Stine's "Gossebumps" novels under lock and key. Through a few hapless errors, the monsters of the novels spring to life and begin terrorizing the town, led by one of Stine's most infamous creations, Slappy the ventriloquist dummy. Slappy burns the books to prevent being sucked back in, and now it's up to Zach, Champ, Hannah, and Stine to stop Slappy's revenge.
On the surface, it seemed like a great idea. Not an adaptation of just one of Stine's books, but an author forced to battle with the famous monsters he's created. It allowed the opportunity to delve into a twisted author's psyche, and really give all of the monsters their own moments in the spotlight.
Unfortunately, the writing in this movie is so awful, so rife with plot holes and unfunny jokes, filled with one-dimensional characters, that I worry about the supposed Dr. Seuss movie with Johhnny Depp as Geisel conversing with the characters.
1. The aspect of Zach's recently dead father and the move to the new town have no bearing on the plot whatsoever. I know not everything has to has a deus ex machina-type purpose, but we needed something.
2. Dylan's character is pretty bland in personality, but he's not bad looking. In fact, he could pass for Channing Tatum's younger brother. So the fact he's not garnering friends or at the very least the head cheerleader's flirtatious come-ons is a bit curious. And how he only came to be friends with someone like Champ is extremely perplexing.
3. Champ. Is. AWFUL. He shrieks and whimpers, cracking one-liners at inappropriate times, and just being an overall coward. He is essentially Shaggy from "Scooby-Doo" without a sense of self-respect.
4. Come to think of it...the good-looking straight man, the cute girl he digs, the simpering coward...and if Jack Black's nerdy bookworm character were a woman...holy crap, it IS "Scooby-Doo"! Someone give them gluttonous, talking dog, please!
5. Speaking of Hannah, I was blown away just how boring and ineffective she was. I waited anxiously for a moment for her to contribute to the plot, but that never came. She was just a pretty face to have Zach save. She does nothing, contributes nothing, says nothing interesting, and only incites Zach to act because she might have been in danger.
6. To give credit where credit is due, at least Zach calls the police when he believes Hannah is being hurt. Smart move. Cops in horror movies are either corrupt or nonexistent, or laughably ineffectual. But they presented a rookie cop who acts like she is hyped on adrenaline after watching "Cops". It's absurd to the point of discomfort, almost as bad as Hamm and Cheets from "The Country Bears". Almost.
7. The aunt who loves Bedazzling and thinks teenage boys need an evening of bedazzling with their aunt, listening to her gripe about her failing dating life. Really? Someone wrote in that character and thought it was worth keeping in? She says a very uncomfortable line when she finds Fifi the poodle (From "Please Don't Feed the Vampire!") on the porch: "Do you have an owner? Is he handsome? Is he single? Does he have a wife who needs a push?" I sincerely hope she meant a metaphorical push, because otherwise, she would've topped Slappy as the creepiest person in the movie. And by the way, falling in love with Stine? How contrived.
8. Actually, there seem to be a lot of moments where everyone is far too calm and collected to realize their town is being invaded by a slew of indestructible monsters. Of COURSE we want to know how Champ got his name as they're sauntering through a graveyard, as they're in a rush to get to Stine's typewriter!
9. At no point does anyone ask Stine or Champ (Who supposedly loves the series) how to defeat the monsters. If there was so much as a line saying "Oh, they're fictional. They live on in the stories. They can't be destroyed", that would have been a lazy cop out, but it would have been something (It later turns out that even a fireball explosion merely disintegrates them into ink and has them coagulate back into physical form. But that was an hour into the movie, so why couldn't they have asked him any earlier?)
10. It's revealed that Hannah is also a creation of Stine. She becomes a ghostly apparition when in the moonlight. Zach immediately concludes she isn't real ask asks Stine why (Logical. I would've asked, "What the frack?!"). Stine explains he needed someone to avoid being lonely. So...he needed and created a 16-year-old girl so he could pretend to have a daughter? He adds that she doesn't know, but the spoiler is she DOES know, revealing so through a witty one liner, because, yeah, that's how that works. It serves only as a contrived plot point to tug at the viewers heartstrings over a couple who share very little chemistry, only to be brought back to life in the end, negating any/all emotional depth. But most importantly, why did Stine write that she would become a ghost in the moonlight?
11. Stine claims to have carpal tunnel in both wrists and Slappy later breaks his fingers so he can't write the ending of the new book to eradicate the monsters, forcing Zach to do it. Yet for the rest of the film, he seems to be able to use his hands pretty well, right down to salvaging his glasses from a giant blob monster.
12. Hannah tells Zach early on that they used to move from town to town a lot, and we are to glean that its because his monsters get out, wreak havoc, and he has to flee to avoid getting persecuted, legally or otherwise. Okay, fine. But how often has this happened? How has an author of such repute avoided the authorities? And in every town there's always some bratty kid who unlocks his books and releases the monsters? But worst of all, how is it that Stine NEVER FACES PROPERTY DAMAGE CHARGES IN MADISON?! It's clear at least the school needed fixing, so why isn't he in jail? Give "Jumanji" credit, at least it altered the space/time continuum so that all was made right in the world. At the very least, we should have seen Stine, Champ, and Zach donate their time to fixing up the town, claiming responsibilities. That would have provided at least SOME character depth and arc to display.
13. The final gag is that long after Slappy and his fellow monsters are sucked back into the book, Stine discovers to his horror that the Invisible Boy is still out and about. The movie was pretty clear in that every monster was sucked in, from Slappy to Hannah (I noticed all the ugly, evil monsters turned into black in when they devolved, while Hannah became magic sparkles. How cute.) So...how was the Invisible Boy spared, and what was he doing, hanging out in the trophy case just in case Stine happened to walk by for dramatic effect?
There you go. Thirteen things wrong with "Goosebumps".
Now, it should be clear I didn't hate the movie. For many of the unfunny gags, there was a great subtext of comparing Stine to Stephen King. For the lack of chemistry between Zach and his mother, at least she was given some sort of character, however flat it may have been. Slappy was kind of a fun villain, and the monsters did feel like legitimate threats at times. There was little to nothing about the movie that was offensive or inspired any hate. It was cliche and poorly written, but nothing truly awful. I would have loved something even campier or something a little more dramatic, but what confused me most was why a movie based on a series from the nineties was clearly made for a 7-to-13 crowd. I have no problem with movies for kids, especially for a property I know little about, but kid's movies need effort just as much as adult's movies.