Monster House (DVD)

Monster House DVD (click for larger image)Starring Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner and Spencer Locke

Directed by Gil Kenan

Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Many of us have lived in a neighborhood that had at least one home or building that struck fear in overactive imaginations. It could be something as simple as a vacant rundown residence. Spider webs would cover the windows, the front door would swing open and occasionally there’d be stories about people entering the house and never coming back out. All that and more is what we have in the newest in the endless stream of CGI films for kids.

I skipped Monster House during the theatrical release because it seemed like just another computer generated animated feature with a living house instead of talking animals. Was it right to write the film off? Are there tons of pop culture references and hidden adult humor? Let us begin.

Mr. Nebbercracker is a mean old man. Anyone who crosses his lawn is subject to verbal abuse or losing whatever possession has fallen onto his property … never to see it again! How long can one man function with so much hate and paranoia? Not long. About a day or two before Halloween, Chowder’s basketball rolls onto the old man’s lawn while playing with his best friend D.J. What is the fat little Chowder to do? Force his best friend to get the ball? Oh yeah!

The wrinkly old bastard runs out at D.J. ready to administer some wild eyed rantings when he suffers what appears to a heart attack and drops dead to the ground. This horrifying sight sparks life in the old fellow’s spooky home … and it wants revenge.

Monster House has plenty of scares for the kids while the adults may be more interested in the technical aspects of the adventure. For the most part the comedy keeps it kid friendly and rarely goes into Shrek territory. This will please parents, but will they be able to sit through the film all the way through?

The movie focuses mainly on our three leads through most of the film, but on occasion we do get a couple of nice cameos. Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara have very small parts as D.J.’s parents and that is very sad. Anyone familiar Christopher Guest’s films will realize the great potential these two actors have when working together … if only they were given more time in Monster House.

Monster House DVD (click for larger image)The first thing the viewer will notice when Monster House starts to roll is an odd animation style that isn’t exactly smooth like the CGI films before it. It has an almost stop-motion feel to it. It certainly sets it apart from the other features in a good way but can you stand the character designs? The audience is going to either love or hate the characters of Monster House. D.J. (Mitchel Musso) and Chowder (Sam Lerner) are a bit hard to watch because they both has a slightly creepy look to them. It became clearer after viewing the special features as to why this art style was chosen, but that doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do especially when neither of your leads is charismatic enough to warrant any likable qualities, but I blame this on being an adult watching a kid’s movie.

Where the movie really comes alive is in its title character. The house is worth sitting through all of the kiddy nonsense for even if its rampage is short lived at the end of Monster House. The residential beast is something to behold when it breaks loose of its foundation and chases after our heroes and faces off with them in a construction area. The tacked on back-story and all the other flaws fall to the wayside during the final battle. The house just keeps coming back for more even after being ripped apart. It even takes on a new shape that is really terrifying and succeeds as being the only real scary thing throughout the whole affair. It’s even scarier than Jon Heder’s guest appearance as a fat nerd … as opposed to the skinny nerd that launched his career.

While the film itself may not exactly entertain anyone over the age of 12, the special features can peak the interest of any adult who loves animation. The Inside Monster House featurette shows the unique process that was used to animate and direct the film. Each actor was put into a motion capture suit and filmed with several cameras while interacting with others in the cast. This style of filmmaking may explain why Monster House has that stop-motion look.

Evolution of a Scene: Eliza VS. Nebbercracker is a multi-angle look at the opening scene of the movie. The viewer can choose to watch the story board, cast or finished product. If one can make it through listening to the little girl 3 or 4 times, this special feature is worth a watch. If you want to kill yourself after continual partaking of the little tricycle girl, don’t feel bad … I personally started to pull out my own underarm hair so I could have something to stuff my ears with.

The commentary and Art of Monster House slide show are two things one can easily glaze over. When the commentary starts, you know the first person talking is Gil Kenan because he introduces himself; after that it’s hard to tell who the is speaking because the other voices never want to identify themselves. What also doesn’t help is that the other featurettes are more insightful than the full length commentary track. Some of it is blowing smoke up the rear and the rest of it is just plain dull. If an adult wasn’t all that interested in the movie to begin, with why would a child want to listen to such a snooze-fest?

There … it’s all on the table. It will entertain the kids, but it just doesn’t give enough for adults to enjoy until the last twenty minutes. If there was more emphasis on the great talent involved instead of cheap laughs with bottles of urine, then it could have been even better. Oh well. Get the movie for your kids so they can be distracted while you enjoy a little quiet time in the other room with a bottle of Jack.

Special Features
Filmmaker commentary
Inside Monster House featurette
Evolution of a Scene: Eliza VS. Nebbercracker
The Art of Monster House

3 1/2 out of 5

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Mike Phalin

Mike Phalin is a contributing writer, reality television star and engineer.