|Monster House (2006)
Starring: voices of Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner, Spencer Locke, Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, Kathleen Turner, Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard, Kevin James
Director: Gil Kenan
“Monster House” is arguably the scariest movie that has ever been targeted to children. There were multiple children around me who said to their parents, “Mommy/Daddy, I’m scared.” (The parents, God love ‘em, clearly wanted to toughen up their kids and made them watch the whole thing, though that’s a far lesser crime than the woman who brought her seven-year-old daughter to see “Clerks II” earlier in the day.) Luckily, the movie is also funny, sweet, and more than a little sad. The boys act like boys, the girls act like girls, and the adult figures, of course, treat the kids as if they were insane, like an animated Lemony Snicket story. And who else would be in the executive producer’s chair but Steven Spielberg, who has terrorized more children than the Devil, the boogie man and Barbra Streisand combined.
The story begins with DJ (Mitchel Musso), who’s teetering on the edge of puberty but has much greater demons to face: Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), the crotchety old neighbor across the street who threatens anyone who trespasses upon his lawn with their very lives. When DJ and his friend Chowder (Sam Lerner) lose their basketball to Nebbercracker’s lawn, they tempt fate and try to retrieve it. Nebbercracker catches DJ and begins screaming furiously at him, then falls over dead. But DJ and Chowder’s troubles have only begun, as Nebbercracker’s house itself comes alive, like a demonic, wooden version of the sorting hat from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” No one, of course, believes them, except for an ambitious private school girl Jenny (Spencer Locke) who lost her entire Halloween stash to the house and was nearly eaten alive herself.
Robert Zemeckis may have handed the directorial reins to newcomer Gil Kenan, but this is still Zemeckis’ show (he’s the other executive producer), using the same animation technique that both fascinated and disturbed viewers of “The Polar Express.” This time, it’s the subject matter that does the disturbing; Nebbercracker’s death scene is downright freaky (it’s all in the point of view), and DJ’s subsequent nightmare sequence is not far removed from a scene in “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Yikes. As a grownup, however, I lapped it all up; the movie’s sense of humor is quirky with occasional blasts of brilliance. Just wait until you hear Chowder’s answer when DJ calls and asks him where his parents are.
There are certain movies that are supposedly meant for adults but appear to be written by and for 12-year-olds, and then there’s “Monster House,” which is supposedly meant for children but is the kind of movie that their parents are going to love while their kids are running for the exits. Okay, so it’s not the most kid-friendly movie in the world (no one under the age of 10 should see this, and even that is pushing the limits a bit). But that doesn’t make it any less thrilling, funny or enjoyable. Like they pointed out in “Monsters Inc.,” embracing fear is just one of many rites of passage from childhood to adulthood. “Monster House” is the only movie in recent memory that takes off the gloves, pulls out the switch, and emotionally beats its child viewers within an inch of their lives. Besides, think of the scarring that something as insipid as the upcoming “Barnyard” will surely have on your child’s intellectual development. When in doubt, scary is always better than dumb. Learn it, know it, live it.