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Monster House /

Rated: PG

Starring: Mitchell Musso, Sam Lerner, Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Catherine O'Hara

Directed by: Gil Keenan

Produced by: Jake Rapke, Steve Starkey

Written by: Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, Pamela Pettler

Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing


     Monster House is a clever, inventive, and visually-arresting animated feature, but it doesnít allow viewer to invest themselves enough in its characters for it to be riveting to an extent at which it becomes great. The story follows two friends, D.J. (Mitchell Musso) and Chowder (Sam Lerner), who discover that there is, as the filmís title suggests, a possessed house sitting in their neighborhood. The premise is highly simplistic, but spooky surprises abound when secrets are revealed about the life of the houseís sole occupant, Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), an old man commonly regarded as the neighborhood-creep.

     Monster House was executively produced by Robert Zemeckis and has been animated using motion-capture technology, like the veteran filmmakerís 2004 effort, The Polar Express. First-time director Gil Keenan rightfully doesnít allow the human-figures here to take on as realistic of appearances as they did in Zemeckisí picture. Instead, he creates them by blending cartoonish appearances and lifelike movements, in an accurate portrayal of the surreally haunting tone that screenwriters Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, and Pamela Pettler clearly target in their script.

     Itís hard to deny that Monster House looks absolutely stunning. Keenan and his team of animators have not only brought to life memorable-looking human-figures, but their craftsmanship of the Monster House itself is stunning. Especially in the filmís third-act, when the house falls out of Nebbercrackerís control, the neat intricacies of the animation and mind-boggling ability to display the personified creationís motion become hard for the viewer to not express awe towards.

     Unfortunately, despite the filmís beautiful appearance and spooky tone, it rarely becomes totally enthralling. This is mainly because of the fact that there is no character-development to be found within Monster House. The personalities of D.J. and Chowder are about as two-dimensional and stereotypical as they come. I can usually forgive animated movies for lacking narrative command, but the other elements of this one are so well-done that I couldnít help but feel they deserved a better cultivated cast of characters to support them. My lack of a care towards what was happening during the filmís plot distracted my ability to become immersed in its imaginative visuals and innovative methods of staging 

     Despite its constructive set-backs, Monster House is still well worth seeing for its inspired use of the truly revolutionary tool of motion-capture animation, as well as its ability to function as an amusing throwback to the old-fashioned, eerie horror films of the 1970ís and Ď80ís. I may not have been as enthralled by it as I would have been had it left me more room to identify with its main characters, but I still appreciated its simple quick-wittedness and other-worldly images. Monster House is mainly being marketed towards kids from the ages of ten to twelve (younger viewers may be frightened by its content), but it offers a solid entertainment experience for adults, too. Itís hard not to enjoy the many unadulterated pleasures that the film has to offer.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (7.27.2006)


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