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Film Review: Monster House

Monster House (2006; Directed by Gil Kenan)

A lively little animated surprise from rookie feature director Gil Kenan. Short of the production marvels that are the trademark of the Pixar stable, this is about as technically and creatively impressive as a children’s movie can get, even in the age of computer-generated artistic freedom. Kenan’s camera is rarely static: it is almost constantly swooping, soaring, swaying, lurching, plunging. The movement is inventive,  the angles just skewed enough to grant the sturdy, sly script a playful momentum in addition to its built-in fable-like quality.

Exec-produced by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg, Monster House dives headlong into the childhood myth of the neighbourhood haunted house, deepening its imaginative as well as its narrative possibilities. DJ (Mitchel Musso) and his friends become enmeshed in the affairs of a decrepit local Colonial abode, which has taken on malevolent supernatural qualities due to a secret in the past of its ex-carnival worker owner and resident Horace (Steve Buscemi). When the house proves not only a ready trap for unwitting trick-or-treaters but also a mobile threat to the safety of the whole town, the kids will have to face up to their fear to stop it.

There’s plenty of solid voice work, sometimes from expected sources (Buscemi, Catherine O’Hara and Fred Willard as DJ’s parents), as well as from unexpected ones (Nick Cannon steals many moments as a twitchy rookie cop). But really, the titular house is the star here. The consistently clever anthropomorphizing never grows old, and its transformation into a roaring, splintered behemoth during the audacious and exhilarating climax is pretty darned spectacular. If this movie came out when I was a kid, I would’ve been even more captivated (and maybe a little scared) by it. But even as a (putative) adult, I’m impressed enough with its rich visual imagination.

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