Across the quiet suburban road from 12 year old DJ (voice of Mitchel Musso) is a strange old house whose cranky inhabitant, Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi) scares off any kids stepping onto his lawn, never mind getting closer to the house. While DJ's parents are away for a day - Halloween, as it happens - DJ has a nasty confrontation with Nebbercracker, and he tries to tell his babysitter, Zee (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who, like all the other adults, shrugs off the warnings as Halloween pranks. So DJ enlists his dorky friend Chowder (Sam Lerner) in a plan to get to the bottom of the mystery. They are joined by the smart and pretty Jenny (Spencer Locke), whose entrepreneurial spirit makes her a valuable ally. But the house has a temper, and it's worse than they could ever expect - and a heartbreaking history they could never imagine.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Hailed as a breakthrough in motion-capture techniques (most extensively rehearsed with The Polar Express, 2004), Monster House can also claim to have pioneered emotion-capture, with its scary story of a monster house, where the resolution is about eternal, unconditional love. That's big bikkies for a family film, but writers Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab and Pamela Pettler have found a marvellous formula for it. It would be rotten of me to spoil it by revealing some of the film's most potent revelations, but suffice to say it's a rich, layered and often funny script, with some decent scares (especially for the 8 - 12 age group) as well as some knowing, hip scenes that satisfy with their edgy moments and lines, from characters who are brought easily to life by the actors behind the animation. (Motion-capture is the same technology that gave us Andy Sarkis' Gollum in Lord of the Rings...)
It's especially enjoyable for adults who tune in: there are subtleties galore in the film, ranging from cinematic technique to tributes, and the calibre of the cast boosts the internal logic and credibility of the film. The technique, meanwhile, enables the filmmakers to tell the story of a house that can show feelings, is mobile in surprising ways, and has an interior that's like a massive - scary - theme park ride.
The technical accomplishments are wondrous, but it's the discovery of the secret behind the monster in Monster House that is the most sophisticated aspect of the film, and one which takes it to a higher level on the cinematic meter than you might expect. It took a while for the filmmakers to realise that this story would work best using motion capture, as distinct from live action. Anyone who calls themselves a designer please take note: here is a great example of design following function, the golden rule of successful design.
Review by Louise Keller:
Hooray for the ingenuity of the kids in Monster House. When puberty is just around the corner, and the house across the road is doing strange things, it takes three smart kids to get to the bottom of it. There are many remarkable things about this new motion-capture animation, not the least being that it is a lot of fun. A compelling mix of humour and horror for kids of all ages, the film is witty, smart and scary with splendid effects, as it nurtures us to use our imagination.
It's credit to the filmmakers that the evolution of house is made so gradually. At the beginning of the film, the house simply looks old and slightly ramshackle. It's the rambunctious owner with bad teeth and aggressive roar that is more scary. But as toys get swallowed up in the lawn, the house quickly develops as our focus. The windows become eyes, the front door lashes out a tongue-like curled carpet sucking up everything in its way, and the wooden slats eerily shift so the whole house changes shape. The nearby leafless trees become accomplices and by the time the house gives chase to the kids, we are wide eyed.
The kids (Mitchel Musso, Spencer Locke and Sam Lerner) are a likeable trio and the hints at the underlying competitive elements between DJ and Chowder for Jenny's affections are especially endearing. There's solid back up in the adult roles: Maggie Gyllenhaal's zany babysitter Zee, Steve Buscemi as Nebbercracker, Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara as DJ's out-of-touch parents, Jon Heder as the pizza chef/video game aficionado and Kathleen Turner roars as the inspiration and physicality of the monster house itself. Monstrous fun.
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GIL KENAN INTERVIEW
MONSTER HOUSE (PG)
VOICES: Steve Buscemi, Nick Cannon, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jon Heder, Kevin James, Jason Lee, Sam Lerne, Spencer Locke, Mitchel Musso, Catherine O'Hara, Kathleen Turner, Fred Willard
PRODUCER: Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey
DIRECTOR: Gil Kenan
SCRIPT: Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, Pamela Pettler
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Paul C. Babin, Xavier Pérez Grobet
EDITOR: Fabienne Rawley, Adam Scott
MUSIC: Douglas Pipes
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Ed Verreaux
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 14, 2006
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