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Posted on the 19 October 2015 by Christopher Saunders
GoosebumpsLike most of my generation, I grew up reading R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books. Since reading Cuckoo Clock of Doom at age ten, they've been a not-so-guilty pleasure, my affection undimmed by the adult realization that they aren't very good. Somewhere in my parents' house is a bin full of books waiting for Groggy to find a bigger apartment. So Goosebumps (2015), which opened Friday to solid box office, taps Millennials' seemingly-inexhaustible vein of '90s nostalgia.
Then again, Scholastic revived Goosebumps in 2008 under the "Horrorland" banner. The revival's run longer than the original series, introducing new monsters while reissuing the older books for today's kids. From the screening I attended, the new generation of Stine-addled adolescents is the movie's primary audience. They're certainly better-placed to appreciate it than me, a cynical adult who's learned the hard way that films can't work on nostalgia alone.
Teenaged Zack (Dylan Minnette) moves to a small Delaware town with his widowed mom (Amy Ryan), a school vice principal. Zack's intrigued by next door neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush), whose stern father won't let her leave the house. Turns out Hannah's dad is R.L. Stine (Jack Black), successful children's author-turned-eccentric recluse. When Zack accidentally opens the manuscripts, he unleashes Stine's creations into the world - led by Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy.
There's a basic problem with Goosebumps: it's not a Goosebumps story. Some elements read like a checklist from Blogger Beware: the protagonist moving, creepy neighbors, girls named Hannah (though there's no five-dollar carwash). But after a half-hour of build-up, the movie turns into a silly monster mash, careening from set piece to set piece without stopping for breath. It's more poor man's Jumanji than Goosebumps, choosing silly action over scares.
Kid's film or not, Goosebumps does a disservice by jettisoning the books' Twilight Zone-style anthology format. Isn't that the series' appeal? There are dozens of villains, but only Slappy has a personality. The rest are anonymous monsters (the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena) or background characters (the Haunted Mask gets two deep-background shots). Writer Darren Lemke's meta-commentary (say, Stine ranting against Stephen King) is too feeble to be funny.
Jack Black does his best to sell the film. He plays Stine with bizarre, hammy restraint, complete with Tenacious D-style grumbly voice and odd interjections of pathos. He's even better voicing Slappy, who becomes Stine's maniacal Id. Dylan Minnette seems a placeholder for a more engaging star. Odeya Rush (The Giver) is charming as Stine's daughter with a secret, but Ryan Lee's third wheel nerd ruins every scene. The adults are forgettable, though R.L. Stine himself has a funny cameo.
Since Goosebumps is making money, we can probably expect sequels. If so, could they please actually adapt the books? Twelve year old Groggy might have enjoyed a Goosebumps monster rally, but a Night at the Museum clone won't please older fans, even with Slappy and evil lawn gnomes running amok.

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