Goosebumps won’t give you too many goosebumps

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

I sat down to watch “Goosebumps” on the night of its premiere with no expectations whatsoever. Like many people whose childhoods spanned the mid-to-late ‘90s and early 2000s, I was familiar with the “Goosebumps” series of children’s horror books, but I had only completely read a few (though my brother owned nearly every entry in the series). The success of R.L. Stine’s world-renowned series is hard to miss, with over 400 million copies sold worldwide, but since he didn’t have a direct part in writing the screenplay for this film, I refused to expect anything substantial from it.

Rob Letterman’s “Goosebumps” doesn’t chronicle the events of any one book in R.L. Stine’s hit series, but instead brings an entirely new experience set in the real world, with the real author himself as a central character. After losing his father to an unknown circumstance, 17-year-old Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mother Gale (Amy Ryan) move from New York to the small town of Madison, Delaware to start a new life. Unfortunately for Zach, his embarrassing mom is the new vice principal at his local high school. And his neighbor is R.L. Stine (Jack Black). After repeated warnings from Stine to stay away from his home and his daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush), Zach decides to break into his home and meddle with his collection of original typewritten copies of the “Goosebumps” series, which bring the monsters to life when opened … because reasons. Zach must team up with his new pal Champ (Ryan Lee), Hannah and R.L. Stine himself to capture the monsters before they destroy the city.

I was pleasantly surprised with “Goosebumps,” because as a film it’s not half bad. It is a movie targeted for younger audiences, but it manages to remain entertaining for those of us who still have that kid inside. Part of this is thanks to Black’s great performance as R.L. Stine, the author of “Goosebumps.” His portrayal initially falls in line with what you might expect from a horror-writer: creepy, anti-social and mysterious — three characteristics that don’t quite match Black’s typical acting style. Seeing this kind of acting from Black was unusual. His character opens up and shifts to his more goofy self as the story progresses, which was refreshing and gave the character some humanity that was otherwise missing. The supporting cast delivers believable performances, none of which are comparable to some of the horrible acting present in some other recent films.

For those interested in the soundtrack, none other than Danny Elfman (“The Simpsons,” “Batman: the Animated Series,” Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman” trilogy) takes the reigns here. The film’s main theme feels appropriate, as it blends a fun, upbeat tempo with some more ominous orchestration. My only problem with the soundtrack is its inability to stop playing. While it’s merely background music most of the time, on occasion it felt distracting, as it almost drowned out dialogue completely in certain scenes with an unnecessarily jumpy tempo and high volume. Most kids will likely look (hear?) past this, though.

If there has to be a winning quality to “Goosebumps,” it would have to be its special effects. The computer-generated aspects are outstanding. From the vicious snarling werewolf to the gelatinous pink blob and everything in between, the CGI here was some of the best I’ve seen this year. Even the giant preying mantis was meticulously designed to match its’ average-sized brethren. If this movie wins any awards, they’ll likely be in the visual effects category.

“Goosebumps” is a movie for kids. The “scares” don’t go much further than a few expected jumpscares and some well-designed monsters, so if you’re over the age of 12 and intend to lose sleep, you’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, there is a lot to enjoy here even if you have your GED and set your own bedtime. The snarky references to a feud between R.L. Stine and author Stephen King, callbacks to the old Goosebumps books and the hilariously simple plot explanation given by Black are just a few aspects of the film that might bring some enjoyment to older audiences.

Ultimately, “Goosebumps” is a good movie. It may not be a seasoned, film connoisseur’s first choice, but if you need a movie to take a younger sibling/relative to see, this wouldn’t be a bad choice.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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