Animating Halloween: Monster House Review

Plot: DJ is obsessed with watching the house of his scary next-door neighbor, Mr. Nebbercracker. He goes insane with rage at everyone who dares set one foot on his yard or get anywhere near his house. When DJ accidentally ‘kills’ Mr. Nebbercracker, he believes his spirit went on to haunt his house, nabbing up anyone who gets near. DJ, his best friend, Chowder, and a local girl named Jenny team up to stop the house, but the situation is far more complicated than they ever anticipated.

Breakdown: Making horror movies for kids is a tricky area. You can’t put in anything ‘too scary’ or else the parents will get up in arms. You can’t tone it down too much or else the movie will be boring, even for kids.

Gentle middlegrounds are hard to find, and this one hits the mark quite well.

I watch Monster House every year on Halloween, but it’s one of those movies that I mostly forget unless it’s the Halloween season. Sometimes, I even forget it until I randomly see it on TV for Halloween.

It was strange to me because I always enjoy this movie whenever I watch it, and it wasn’t until I watched it for the review that I realized why I probably let it slip my mind whenever it’s not Halloween – this movie has very irritating characters.

Granted, they are ‘realistic’ tweenagers, teenagers and adults, but there’s no one in this movie that’s even slightly likable until the last 15 minutes or so.

Let’s go down the line –

DJ is one of those kids who wants desperately to be treated as a mature adult, but still does a lot of immature things. He’s obsessed with Mr. Nebbercracker because of his harsh behavior and the creepy urban legend that he killed his wife and ate her. DJ is probably the least annoying, but that’s not saying much.

His parents, while only getting brief screentime, also don’t get a good light shed on them. They’re mostly harmless, but then we see that his father refuses to show DJ any affection, fighting his wife against telling him he loves him before he leaves on a trip or giving him a hug goodbye. Then we get a completely serious implication that his mother wouldn’t care if she accidentally killed him.

She believes she backed into DJ with the car, and his father fully implies she wouldn’t care if she did.

Then we have Chowder, who is just obnoxious. He’s the typical comic relief immature best friend. Almost all of his scenes involve him being incredibly annoying in some way.

For good measure, we have Jenny or the obligatory love interest who is literally thrown into the story. She doesn’t even live in their neighborhood nor had the two boys met her before the story began. She’s an alright character, but not only is she clearly just meant to be a love interest for the boys (though obviously meant for DJ because since when does the sidekick get the girl?) she says stuff like “Are you mentally challenged?…Because, if you are, I’m certified to teach you baseball!” to them upon first meeting.

There’s Zee, who is the bitchy punk rocker babysitter who loves to torment DJ.

Then we have her boyfriend, Bones, who’s even more of a prick than she is. During his screentime, he does such charming things as getting drunk, ripping apart DJ’s stuffed bunny rabbit, and getting pissy that Zee doesn’t want to fool around with him.

Following them, we have Skull, a local gamer who is about as typical as any depiction of a gamer since The Wizard. He’s obsessed with video games, is a complete jerk and is so into his games that he can play them without looking and talks smack to them.

After that, there’s the police. There’s the veteran cop who laughs at the kids claims of there being something wrong with the house, but eventually tries to arrest them for minor offenses toward a vacant house.

Then there’s his partner, a rookie cop who is one of those types who gets way too into it and is fully drunk on the power before he even gets his feet wet. It’s scary how he treats these kids, too. He’s gleefully happy to take them in, taunts them as if they’re adult criminals and will swing his gun around like it’s not even there.

The only characters left to address are Mr. Nebbercracker and his wife. Mr. Nebbercracker is meant to be a scary, mean old man, but in the last 20 minutes or so, you realize he wasn’t being this way to be a jerk. He was actually trying to protect everyone.

His wife was a bitch who only had a soft spot for him, but it’s understandable that she is so defensive given her backstory.

I won’t go any further to avoid spoilers, even though this movie is old enough to warrant them. I think the twist is a good chunk of the fun.

I will ask a couple of spoiler-y questions, though. Be warned until the list is over.

1 – Constance fell into the cement for the foundation……and…..Horace just built…over her? Why didn’t he dig her out? Why would he ever feel comfortable building a house on his wife’s remains?

2 – Considering how thin the cement was over Constance’s remains, I feel like that wouldn’t have even been enough to kill her. Certainly Horace should have been able to save her.

3 – The house was haunted by her spirit since her corpse was in the foundation, yet when the house actually uprooted itself and started traveling all over town, the spirit didn’t leave it. If it was detached from the foundation, I don’t really see why the house itself was still haunted.

4 – This is from earlier in the movie, but if you had a guy who was clearly not dead and was only suffering from a heart attack or something, why would you treat the guy like a corpse? They don’t give him medical attention or anything. The plop him on a gurney, don’t even put him in a body bag or cover him up, and let his arm dangle and drag the ground. Even if they thought he was dead, you don’t treat patients like that.

Outside of that, this is still a great horror movie for all ages. The scares are effective for kids and adults alike, and some of the visuals are wonderfully done.

The backstory was well-written, and I was legitimately happy for everyone in the end. I only wish they all, barring Nebbercracker for obvious reasons, could’ve been more likable from the start so I could really get emotionally invested.

The art and animation is where some people falter on this movie, and I can see why. It’s a strange amalgamation of motion capture and clay-like CGI animation. The heads are super big, the hair doesn’t move at all, and some of the movements are surreal when coupled with the animation. The movements of the arms and bodies will be fine, but then the heads will just seem strange.

The music was also nice. Even though nothing stood out as being fantastic, it was a very fitting soundtrack that melded well with the ambiance.

Monster House has been getting very positive reviews every since its release….but check out the reviews on Common Sense Media. Remember how I said horror movies for kids might get parents up in arms? These reviewers have their parental arms fully up.

They bitch about the littlest things like one character saying ‘I stole drugs for you!’ when the ‘drugs’ were bottles of cold medicine…meant to knock out a sentient house, or saying ‘kiss my butt’ or ‘moron.’ All of these reviews amount to a one-star rating.

One reviewer said this movie scared their two-year-old kid…..THEIR TWO-YEAR-OLD KID.

You let your two-friggin’-year-old kid watch a horror movie – I don’t give a crap if it’s meant for kids, it’s still a damn horror movie. And it’s rated PG, meaning it’s already meant for an older audience than friggin’ two-year-olds.

The icing on the cake – they complained about the fact that there was a creepy monster house that eats people………IT’S…..THE….ENTIRE….TITLE….OF….THE…..MOVIE.

MONSTER. HOUSE. It could not be clearer if they called it ‘Scary Goddamn Morphing Monster House That Eats People and Also a Movie Your Two-Year-Old Probably Shouldn’t Watch.’ I bet your two-year-old can read better than you.

It borderlines between PG and PG-13. I agree it probably could’ve garnered a PG-13 rating, but, honestly, PG also suits it just fine. Just talk to your kids about the questionable stuff, if necessary, and if they aren’t ready for horror movies, don’t let them watch it….hence the Parental Guidance suggested thing.

I believe people of all ages will get enjoyment out of this movie, especially around Halloween considering it’s both a great animated horror movie and it’s set around Halloween. I do applaud it for having realistic characters, but I just wish they had been more likable.

Also, just for the sake of the people on Common Sense Media, yes, people get gobbled up, but the ending assures us that they all lived. Dumbass Bones even got to keep his stupid kite.

Recommended Audience: I already basically went over this, but I’d say 10+

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AVAHS – Disney’s A Christmas Carol


Plot: You don’t know the plot to this story? How do you exist? No, no, no. I refuse to believe you’ve never seen anything A Christmas Carol related. Now go and watch either an adaptation of it or a parody and think about what you’ve done.

Breakdown: This is kinda weird for me to review. I mean, how do you review any adaptation of A Christmas Carol? There are just so many of them, and it’s pretty damn hard to mess it up.

It’s such a simple structure. Jackass character hates Christmas, is haunted by three spirits representing Christmas past, present and yet to come, main character learns the error of his ways and becomes nicer as well as learns to appreciate and celebrate Christmas more. The End.

So if I can’t really analyze the story here, what can I analyze?

Well, I suppose we can start with Scrooge. It’s been my experience that most Scrooges are rather intimidating. While not being entirely scary, they do have a somewhat powerful air about them. They speak well, they have very straight posture and their voices are typically somewhat deep.

Jim Carrey’s Scrooge is very frail and has a much higher pitched and weak voice than I’m used to. His accent’s also somewhat questionable, though his old man voice is pretty good. He’s hunched over, he’s somewhat skeletal, he shakes frequently and he comes off as more of a grumpy old fart than a frightening man with power and money.

Also, despite the ‘elderly’ effects I can very clearly see Jim Carrey playing the character. It’s kinda distracting. Tom Hanks played several characters in The Polar Express and even though his voice was very obvious in most of the roles, I couldn’t really see Hanks in any of the characters except maybe the Hobo. Though, to be honest, this isn’t the role where Jim Carrey is most obvious.

Which brings us to the ghosts. First up is the ghost of Christmas past. This version’s Christmas past is supposedly one of the closest any adaptation has gotten to the Charles Dickens description. In the novel, the ghost of Christmas past is a, for lack of a better term, ghostly apparition of androgynous gender cloaked in a white robe. On its head is a flickering flame, like a candle, and he carries around a cap that looks very much like a metal candle snuffer.

Here, Past is basically a candle. His body is a white melting candle that eventually looks like a white robe. His head is a flame and he carries around the snuffer.

This is the role where you can very clearly see Jim Carrey because they did nothing to Carrey’s face when they plastered it onto the flame.

Look at that damn thing. It’s like they were going to shoot the scene for Past and forgot the trackers. Instead of waiting until they got them, they just shot the scene without them, cropped out everything but Carrey’s face and photoshopped it onto the character.

Not only that, but this thing acts like a psycho. He constantly sways back and forth like an idiot to make his flame waft in the wind and when he stands still he gets this like tic where he quickly twitches his head to the side, causing a lighter-like spark.

This thing is just a mess. What’s worse is that they just had a character with flame-like hair a minute ago. Marley was designed with hair flowing in that manner. Why couldn’t they have a regular head with fire hair instead of this?

Jim Carrey’s voice for this is also just weird. He’s constantly whispering and it’s a lot creepier than it should be.

As for the various sections, I tend to break up these segments into reflection, understanding and change respectively.

Reflection: This movie does follow every step that the first segment has. First, his Christmas alone at a boarding school, then his sister, Fanny, announcing that his father has grown kinder and will allow him home for Christmas, then a dance with his fiancée, Belle, at a party his first boss and father figure, Fezzwig, was holding, then his break up with Belle a couple Christmases later.

This section is fine, really, but it also starts to highlight a big problem as to why people find this one of the weakest A Christmas Carol adaptations.

Personally, my favorite is A Muppet Christmas Carol. Why do I bring that up? Because Muppets….are puppets. They don’t really have a lot of elbow room for emotional facial expressions. Yes, there are numerous human characters in the movie and Scrooge himself is played by Michael Caine, but most of the characters are Muppets. They do a way better job of conveying emotion than this movie.

In The Polar Express, conveying emotion was a problem, but because of the subject matter it wasn’t a huge problem. It was a movie meant to be a roller coaster ride that made you feel all Christmassy inside, and it did achieve that. The emotional scenes were sparse, and one worked pretty well mostly because of silence and directing, not facial expressions and voice acting.

Here, you’re supposed to be taken on a bit of an emotional roller coaster. You’re supposed to be happy at Scrooge’s happier moments and feel for him when his life starts tumbling down, even if it is at his own hands. The fact that motion capture has big issues conveying emotion and has the trademark dead eyes makes movies like this a problem. I really believe this is one of the main reasons motion capture hasn’t caught on outside of video games and inserted CGI in live action movies. Outside of making pretty roller coasters, it can’t hold emotional impact very well. Or at least, if it can, they haven’t done it very well as of yet.

It’s purely motion capture – not emotion capture.

Young Scrooge, despite being closely modeled after Carrey, is just awful. He looks like the action figure version of his character come to life. When he and Belle, a character who is actually very beautifully modeled, interact, I feel like a doll is having a conversation with a human person. It’s weird. It’s awkward. And because of this the scene loses 90% of the intended emotion.

I will say that the scene directly following the breakup where Past shifts his face quickly into the faces of those from his past is very effectively creepy. There. Motion capture is great for horror movies. Get on that.

Understanding: The Ghost of Christmas Present is basically exactly as he’s described in the novel. I should point out that straying from the novel’s representations does not mark points off. All of the adaptations change the ghosts a little. It’s not what the design is changed to, it’s how good it looks and if it effectively conveys the feeling that it’s supposed to.

Present…is actually pretty well done in my opinion. Except his laughing gets on my nerves. I liked his segment….though it does further highlight the emotionless problem.

Here is one of the most memorable parts of the story with Tiny Tim. Several characters are tearing up when thinking about his plight…..and I feel…..kinda bad I guess.

I wouldn’t say I feel nothing, because the dialogue alone is kinda sad but the sad faces in motion capture….they just don’t do it for me. The tears look like glass, the facial expressions just seem weird – it just doesn’t work very well. The voice acting and dialogue are okay here, which is really all that saves it.

However, Jim Carrey just cannot get emotion though Scrooge. He begs for Tiny Tim’s life and I feel like he’s asking for another slice of pizza.

Change: I really like the introduction to Yet to Come here. It’s in a dark wide open area, seemingly in a clock tower, and Yet to Come emerges through Scrooge’s shadow while Scrooge monologues accompanied by silence. Like practically every version of the story, including the original Dickens’ novel, this version of Yet to Come is basically the grim reaper. In this version, however, Yet to Come is almost always in shadow form, which is kinda cool.

Just when it seems like this one will be the most impacting and serious segment of all…..they completely ruin it. But I won’t explain how until later. Let’s just skip over that for a moment. Like the other segments, this one also explores the same beats as the novel. And just as the other two segments, the emotion problem is still present though, again, worse, because this is filled with death and tragedy.

When they show us Cratchit’s face with his eyes beet red from crying, all I could think of was that it looked like there was a bad rash around his eyes.

As for the rest of the movie, story-wise, it emits the most emotion, that of which being fun. Probably because Carrey seems to actually be having fun with the finale. Plus, there’s a little bit more emotion than usual in his remorse.

With all of the story elements out of the way, we arrive at another of the worst problems in this movie. I’ve been deliberately dancing around these parts of the movie to focus on the story elements, but this movie, like The Polar Express….aims to be a visual 3D roller coaster, and spends quite a bit of time milking the pretty visuals and 3D effects.

A Christmas Carol is not a visual roller coaster. Sure, it has fantastical elements, but you’d be hardpressed to find someone who’ll say ‘Oh A Christmas Carol? I loved that action movie!’

In the first segment, I can be forgiving. The roller coaster aspect of Reflection was merely flying through the trees, which kinda did happen in the novel.

The second segment amps it up 1000 fold, however. Basically, Present uses the embers from his torch to turn the floor of the room into a viewing screen that seems to travel from location to location, so it’s like you’re flying around on a helicopter with a glass bottom that can see through ceilings.

I will admit that this effect is pretty damn cool, and I imagine it’s fantastic in 3D and IMAX….Too bad I’m watching this at home on my 30” TV screen. This scene, out of everything from The Polar Express through this movie seems like its the one that has the most effect outside of 3D and IMAX, but there’s no denying that it loses quite a bit of the impact without it.

While both of those segments had a point, the third is absolutely pointless and kinda stupid. In Change, Yet to Come chases around Scrooge through town on his shadowy carriage. Scrooge inexplicably shrinks down to mouse size in the middle of this chase scene, and there’s more chasing but now in mini-form.

Scrooge arrives at the second location of the third segment in mini-form as he lay across the stolen cloth that Mrs. Dilber took from his room after his death. He eventually grows back to normal size, but there is 100% no point in shrinking him to begin with.

Bottom Line: So, basically, this movie’s a bit of a mess. While it is touted as being one of the most loyal adaptations of Dickens’ novel, and it even takes quite a bit of dialogue from it, it loses the emotion due to the motion capture and a good deal of the voice acting, and it gains a bunch of action 3D stuff that just adds nothing to the story and doesn’t translate well to home viewing.

Unlike The Polar Express where I feel it’s more of an experience than it is a story, this is by nature supposed to be more of a story than an experience. Yes, it does the story just fine and it is a visual treat, again if you ignore the human characters, but without the emotion and feeling of Christmas spirit behind it, it just feels hollow.

It’s not a terrible movie, I wouldn’t even say it’s bad, but there are just a lot of problems with it, and unlike The Polar Express, I’m not going to give it a big pass just because it’s Christmas. Watch on the biggest screen you can manage, and try to get 3D, but there are just so many much better adaptations and even parodies of A Christmas Carol out there. I won’t be able to let motion capture die just yet, but can it please stay out of Christmas movies for now?

Recommended Audience: They do say ‘ass’ once, and there’s mentions of death. Plus, the final segment gets a bit dark-ish a little. 7+

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