When I was a kid I used to read a series of books called Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. They were kind of like the Hardy Boys, but always had a supernatural twist of some kind. They had names like The Mystery of the Green Ghost and were a precursor to the Goosbumps books in that they were exciting and scary. I bring this up not just to take a stroll down memory lane, but because the new film Monster House reminded me of the spirit of those books—harmless scary fun.
Like the heroes of the Three Investigator novels, Monster House finds a young trio of friends, two boys and a girl, trying to discover the secret of a gloomy old haunted house in their neighborhood that seems to come alive and devour anyone and anything that dares trespass on its front lawn.
The movie was created using the motion-capture process last used for Polar Express. Behind each of the animated characters are performers who act out each scene on a “black box” set wearing special suits that capture their every move on a computer. Once animated the performances have the spontaneity of live action with the distinctive look of animation. I thought the animation in Polar Express was creepy—the characters put me in the mind of zombies performing a Christmas pageant—but Monster House makes much better use of the high-tech animation method.
Despite the animation and the movie’s outlandish story, you get the feeling from Monster House that you are watching real kids on a real adventure. The three leads behave the way kids do and the strong script allows them to talk to one another as kids do. Their dynamic as friends owes more than just a little to Harry Potter, but they are fun to watch, particularly Chowder, the little trouble maker who gets most of the laughs.
Some scenes in the film might be a little intense for younger viewers, but nonetheless Monster House is a good bet for the whole family.