There’s nothing like the warm, cosy glow of nostalgia to cloud ones judgement when revisiting a childhood favourite. Time and again the things we adored as kiddie-winks and teenagers come back to haunt us as adults and make us long for some hazy idyllic past that likely didn’t quite exist in the way we remember. So it’s a pleasant surprise to learn that the Goosebumps film is an anarchic fun-fest that goes a long way to prove your childhood really was that awesome. Author R.L. Stine’s series of spooky tales for the young have long had the small screen treatment but this cinematic treat takes his monstrous creations and turns things on its head with a brilliantly meta conceit by having Jack Black play the man himself, albeit an entirely fictional version.
Likable young actor Dylan Minnette stars as Zach Cooper, reluctantly moving to a small town with his recently widowed mother (Amy Ryan). The chances of anything exciting happening to Zach in his new home seems desperately slim until he meets next door neighbour Hannah (Odeya Rush). The pair quickly bond but her mysterious father (Black) forbids them from seeing each other. Together with his new friend Champ (Ryan Lee), Zach breaks into their house fearing for her safety but instead he accidentally unleashes a host of monsters upon the town after discovering that Hannah’s father is actually Goosebumps author R.L. Stine.
The genius idea is that Stine hides away with Hannah because he is entrapped by his own imagination, for every creepy tale he writes he must lock the manuscript lest the terrifying creatures he creates escape from the page. When the well-meaning Zach blunders in and sets loose an army of monsters the laughs kick in as Black joins the hapless teens to face his demons and what a delightful collection of demons they turn out to be. Head nasty is Slappy, a malevolent ventriloquist’s dummy with an eye for mischief and chaos and a personal beef with Stine whilst other classic monsters include the Abominable Snowman, a particularly horrific looking giant Praying Mantis and a horde of wonderfully unhinged garden gnomes.
Director Rob Letterman manages to get the balance between scares and laughs just about right (although kids of a nervous disposition should probably steer clear), keeping things ticking over nicely for the duration. Black (who also voices Slappy) is a hoot and gets the best lines while he kids are hardly slouches with Minnette the stand out and Lee a delight as the unashamedly cowardly Champ.
This big screen outing for Stine’s wonderful creations perfectly blends wit with the macabre for 103 minutes of funny frights. Part Jumanji, part Gremlins, Goosebumps is a triumph in ghoulish family fun.