Quick Hit: A film that takes its source material and wrings campy goodness out of them through performance of its actors and special effects.
As usual, I’ll start this film off talking about myself (if you are following my blog consistently, you’re probably learning something). As a kid, I was not the most athletic chap. Though I wasn’t quite on the level of Champ from the movie (more on him later), I was at least headed in that direction. My head was usually buried in a book, from around age 7 to my middle teenage years. One of my favorite book series, that I owned each one and reread several of my favorites regularly, was R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps.
To say that I loved those books was an understatement. I would still have each one if I hadn’t given them to some of my favorite swim lesson students when I discovered they enjoyed them as well. They were my gateway into a world of literature, which of course, led me into the world of movies. R.L. Stine taught me that it was ok to laugh and be scared (For a great story on the Goosebumps series as a whole, check this out on A.V. Club). Not only did I read the books, I watched some episodes of the short lived tv show that I had on VHS (showing some age here), because I didn’t have cable to watch the live episodes.
The movie brought me wave after wave of nostalgia. It was hard not to picture Slappy on the cover of Night of the Living Dummy as he appeared on the screen (along with several others like the Blob that ate everything, the lawn gnomes, the mantis, etc. etc.). He was voiced by Jack Black, who was also playing the role of R.L. Stine. I thought it was a tremendous casting choice, and Black is good here. He is excitingly campy, which fits the pulpy nature of these books. Being over the top can be a distraction, but here I think it fits in pretty well.
That’s not to say that I think you have to have read the books to enjoy the film. Admittedly, it is kiddie fare, with very little danger and watered down jokes that make it accessible to everyone. At times, I longed for more from the film, since it seemed to have been cut down in order to have more special effects (which were good, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t like a movie when it relies on the technology). One of the areas that left me wanting was the acting. The actors themselves can be nearly as wooden as Slappy himself, outside of Black (har har har… Goosebumps humor). Pretty much all of the actors could have been swapped with nearly anyone, and the film would have been the same.
The script at time suffers from being too quickly paced. We are introduced to the main character, his love interest, Stine, and given background on why they are all pushed together so quickly that there is no time to feel bad for our main character. In fact, as I’m typing this paragraph, I can’t even remember the character’s name (IT’S ZACH! Thanks IMDB, as usual).
However, the ideas in the film and some of the humor that makes it through, make the film enjoyable throughout. Ryan Lee shines as Champ, who became my favorite character in the film after Jack Black’s Stine. I’m not sure if I connected with him because of the loveable loser thing he had, but he made me chuckle and even laugh out loud at times with excellent delivery and timing. The ideas of an author’s stories coming to life are nothing new (at least I thought they weren’t. I was trying to find another example but Google has failed me. Feel free to suggest one in the comments section), but I can’t help but enjoy the idea of it. Because to any person that loves to read, books are a place where your favorite characters are alive already.
I give Goosebumps a loving B+ despite its flaws.
For more on Goosebumps, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"