I can tell you right now that I didn’t expect this, but really could anyone have? A 2015 movie based on R.L. Stine’s kid-friendly horror novels from twenty years ago shouldn’t be good, right? Well, it turns out my low expectations were incredibly wrong and Goosebumps is actually a great kid-friendly horror-comedy and one of the more fun movie-going experiences I’ve had this year.
R.L. Stine wrote over sixty Goosebumps novels during the mid-90s, so there was a lot of material to inspire the writers of the film. For a long time, I even thought this was going to be an anthology film with multiple short stories making up the end product. Instead, the writers came up with a fun, fresh idea that includes all of the Goosebumps creatures and monsters being unleashed upon a small town.
Goosebumps opens with a teen named Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mom Gale (Amy Ryan) moving from the bustling city of New York to a small town in Delaware. Zach quickly befriends Champ (Ryan Lee), a nerdy kid at school whom everyone calls “Chump,” and Hannah (Odeya Rush), who is the cute girl next door. Zach has trouble seeing Hannah, however, as her father is very strict and even a bit creepy, continually telling Zach to stay away from his daughter.
When Zach hears a distressing scream from Hannah next door, he devises a plan to save her from her crazy father, whom we later find out is actually be R.L. Stine (Jack Black). While searching the house for Hannah, Zach and Champ come across a bookcase of locked manuscripts that carry the names of Goosebumps books. The characters in the film are aware of the series and attempt to unlock one. They unlock a manuscript for a Goosebumps story called The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, which lets loose the actual Yeti monster from the story.
Hannah shows up just as the Yeti crashes through the side of the house, tumbling down the street. She explains that the books have to remain sealed to keep the monsters from escaping. The three kids set off to stop the Yeti by capturing it within the book, but in turn accidentally knock loose another manuscript, which contains Slappy, a maniacal ventriloquist doll from the Goosebumps story Night of the Living Dummy. Slappy begins to open the rest of the manuscripts, creating an army of monsters and creatures that begin to terrorize the town. It’s now up to Stine and the three teens to stop the town from being destroyed.
If you were a fan of the books or the TV show, then Goosebumps is fan service galore, though the movie offers way more than just blatant nostalgia. You don’t get every monster from every book, but many of the more memorable ones are heavily featured, mostly through the use of well-crafted CGI. While seeing the monsters from the books you read as a child can be cool and perhaps even scary to younger children, it wouldn’t necessarily make for a good movie. Thankfully, the jokes usually hit and are genuinely funny even for an older audience. The actors have a fantastic sense of comedic timing, and the jokes are actually smarter and far more self-aware than you’d expect for a kids movie.
Jack Black is exceptional, giving his best and most memorable performance in a long time. His portrayal of R.L. Stine has a complete character arc and he plays the character so well. You’ll feel uncomfortable around him at first, but by the end you’ll love him. Ryan Lee’s Champ on the other hand should have your love from the first time he shows up, as he is incredibly charming throughout and has some of the best lines in the movie. Really, all of the actors are great, work well off of each other comically, and convincingly interact with all of the CGI monsters.
I will admit that there are some plot hiccups throughout, but Goosebumps offers up a daring and interesting plot twist and is really just a lot of fun, so it’s easy to look past some hangups I have about the plot. If you were a fan of the Goosebumps series of books or the TV show, then you should see this movie. If you’ve been waiting patiently for Jack Black to be relevant and funny again, Goosebumps is it. If you’re just looking for a purely fun, kid-friendly horror flick, then Goosebumps is near-perfect nostalgic fun and one of the best children’s comedies I’ve seen in years.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor