When a plethora of hideous ghouls and beasties escape the magic books of Goosebumps author R.L. Stine, it’s up to him and a gang of teenagers to put a stop to the carnage and save their small town.
If you’re of a certain age you’ll remember reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books or watching the television adaptation on Fox Kids. It’s more of less a pre-requisite that all respectable 90’s children have some vague recollection or otherwise of these delightfully twisted horror tales, and definitely a requirement to at least be able to recall the green slime or Slappy – the ventriloquist dummy with a Napoleon complex.
In some cases, the nostalgia factor was so great, fans of the source material (read: me) couldn’t help but cringe at the idea of Hollywood diving into the Goosebumps canon. The world has seen too many rehashes and reboots blinded by dollar signs to know that any big screen adaptation should be treated with careful optimism or – as per the usual response – deserved pessimism.
So imagine my surprise when I came out of Goosebumps with a big stupid grin on my face. I walked in expecting something along the lines of the horrendous R.I.P.D but left wholly satisfied with a rip-roaring light-hearted adventure. Despite some shaky visual effects, this movie is a solid and dependable children’s movie that moves along with a spring in its step, a twinkle in its eye and tips its cap to fans new and old – and that’s all we could ever have asked for. They say not to judge a book by a cover – you should judge Goosebumps by the magic within.
All of the kids involved are more than adept in their performances, particularly Dylan Minette who exudes a natural charm and likeability as the new boy in town, Zack Cooper. However the real joy here is Jack Black as R.L. Stine. He abandons the maniacal shtick that has gotten him as far as it has in the business, and instead plays the Goosebumps creator with a witty and dry sarcasm. You can tell he’s got his tongue stuck firmly in his cheek, but he’s unafraid to lash cutting remarks or wonderfully Meta jibes about his rival ‘Steve’ King – a rant that was well appreciated in my screening.
The decision from director Rob Letterman and screenwriter Darren Lemke to include Stine as a central character proves early on to be a genius play. The film doesn’t hobble itself by trying to adapt one singular story in particular – a solitary tale probably wouldn’t have the legs to make it to the hour mark, let alone fill out the feature length runtime. Instead it takes place in a world where the creator of these creepy tales lives and breathes, as do all of his inventions. Not only does Stine’s fantastical imagination act as the inspiration for the movie itself, it also becomes the driving plot device, allowing the filmmakers to make full use of his collected works – and boy they do just that.
Goosebumps is a buffet of beasts and monsters, hampered only slightly by the less-than-spectacular effects work. The lawn gnomes, abominable snowman and of course Slappy all make welcome appearances, while the latter acts as the overarching villain of the piece. Fans who know and love the source material will cheer (inaudibly obviously) when these monsters show up, but you’ll still prefer the way they looked when you were a kid.
Go into this one with low expectations and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Go on with high expectations and it’ll most likely meet them. The family monster genre is a minefield of potential missteps and failings, but thankfully Goosebumps minds its footing, pays homage to its roots and ushers in this beloved collection of frightful stories for a new generation.
Movie rating: (4 / 5)