Movie Review: “Goosebumps”

Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan
Rob Letterman

If you were a child of the ‘90s, or a parent of school-age children during that decade, you’re probably familiar with R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps,” the best-selling series of kid-friendly horror novellas that captured a generation of young readers. In fact, the astonishingly prolific Stine is still publishing new books to this day – a sign of the series’ continued popularity that suggests a “Goosebumps” movie has been long overdue. Though this isn’t the first attempt at bringing the YA horror series to the big screen (Tim Burton was attached to produce a film version in 1998 that never came to fruition), it’s a harmless slice of family entertainment that evokes the goofy humor and PG-rated scares of other Halloween classics like “Hocus Pocus.”

One year after his father’s death, mopey teenager Zach (Dylan Minnette) relocates from New York City to Madison, Delaware with his mother (Amy Ryan) when she accepts a job as the vice principal at the local high school. Zach quickly makes friends with the charismatic girl next door, Hannah (Odeya Rush), but when he suspects that her creepy, overbearing father (Jack Black) is harming her, he breaks into the house with new schoolmate Champ (Ryan Lee) to investigate. Once inside, they discover a bookshelf filled with “Goosebumps” manuscripts that have been mysteriously sealed with a lock, and after Zach unwittingly opens one titled “The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena,” the eponymous monster magically leaps from the pages into the real world. As it turns out, Zach’s neighbor is R.L. Stine himself, whose imaginary creations actually exist and must be contained under lock and key. But when another book is opened amid the chaos of the Abominable Snowman’s escape and evil ventriloquist doll Slappy the Dummy (voiced by Black) is released, he steals the remaining manuscripts in order to free his fellow monsters from their hardbound prisons and wreak havoc on the entire town.

“Goosebumps” is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have a lot of fun with its premise, which takes a very meta approach to the source material by including a fictional version of Stine in the story. If anyone was going to make a “Goosebumps” film, this was certainly the way to do it, because it allows director Rob Letterman to mine the series’ rich history instead of just doing a straight adaptation of one particular novella. Though Slappy is the lead villain (and deservedly so, because he’s arguably Stine’s best creation), the movie features several recognizable creatures from the “Goosebumps” books, some of which are given more prominent roles in the various action sequences that keep the story moving at a feverish pace.

Unfortunately, while the film is much better than the cheesy, mid-‘90s TV series based on Stine’s anthology of scary stories, nothing about it really stands out apart from Black’s amusing performance as the macabre and slightly sinister author. The visual effects are solid, if a little cartoony, and although Darren Lemke’s screenplay nails the spooky/funny tone of the typical “Goosebumps” tale, it’s riddled with plot holes, like for instance: how are these books even being published if Stine locks away the manuscripts once they’re completed? In spite of its obvious flaws, however, the spirit of “Goosebumps” is very much alive in Letterman’s movie. It’s too juvenile to recommend as anything other than a sweet and disposable Halloween treat for the family – think “Cabin in the Woods” by way of the Disney Channel – but kids will love every minute, and that’s all that really matters.