Maciej Pradziad ’23
If you’ve never seen or haven’t recently rewatched Gil Kenan’s animated horror classic Monster House, you are doing yourself a great disservice this Halloween season. Although the film presents itself as a “children’s horror film,” it is filled with a surprising amount of mature content that explores the fine line between love and death as tiptoed by an extreme form of grief that keeps the former alive in spite of the latter. The film’s greatest assets that allow for the exploration of these complex themes are the intricately intimate screenplay by Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, and Pamela Pettler; the beautifully fluid cinematography by Xavier Grobet; and the hyper-realistic animation direction by Norman Newberry and Greg Papalia.
Monster House revolves around three children named DJ (Mitchel Musso), Chowder (Sam Lerner), and Jenny (Spencer Locke) as they attempt to rid the violent, haunted house across the street of what they believe to be the soul of their crotchety, old neighbor, Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi). With less than 24 hours to go, the children must act quickly as the house intends to harm innocent trick-or-treaters and children alike that knock on its front door on Halloween night.
The screenplay by Harmon, Schrab, and Pettler has an extremely humanistic and down-to-earth quality that is true to the conversations and the attitudes held by kids transitioning into their teenage years. One of the most engaging aspects of the film is the relationships between the three leads and their environment because they’re well-meaning in their intentions, but misunderstood by the adults in their life. This is taken to a comical extreme as all the adult characters are endearingly ignorant of the danger the children are in and are too busy dealing with their own struggles to even notice. However, a critique of the screenplay that is glaringly obvious is the unfair treatment of the only black character within the film, Officer Lister (Nick Cannon). Although all the adults in Monster House are idiotic, they are not made equally stupid as the screenwriters decided to make Officer Lister the dumbest character of them all, making for a problematic viewing experience that is unfortunately all too common in film. Fortunately enough, the adults within the film are not the main focus, allowing for the clever and heartfelt writing to be seen and heard through the children for the majority of the film.
The fluidity of the cinematography combined with the detailed environments and character animations make this film more beautiful than one would expect. This is made especially apparent through the way the camera seamlessly moves from one character’s perspective to the next without ever once breaking the viewer’s attention. It certainly helps that the environments, particularly the haunted house, are animated with a certain level of realism that feels familiar and warm, but can quickly turn horrifying and dark in a matter of seconds. In addition, due to the use of live action motion capture animation (like in The Polar Express), the character’s movements are extremely realistic and make them feel like genuine people you may have known growing up. However, not all of the animation was created equally as the facial animations are absolutely horrendous. While some characters, like Mr. Nebbercracker, have a design that is intricate, memorable, and easy to look at, the rest look like a blob of flesh colored Play-Doh with eyes. Fortunately enough, the facial animation can be easily overlooked as the voice acting from the main cast brings a humanity to the characters that makes you forget you’re constantly looking at terrifying humanoidsfrom the uncanny valley.
Monster House is an animated film that captures the wonders of childhood horror and allows even the most jaded of audience members to re-experience the magic of Halloween.