As soon as Jack Black’s sneering face popped out of a window and he began choking on his spittle as he ranted and screamed about wanting to be left alone, I was sold on Goosebumps.
The story is a cliche of a cliche. A teenager and his mom move to a small town after his dad dies, he falls for the girl next door, finds a clumsy best friend and they go off on an adventure. The adventure just so happens to be a Goosebumps plot, and that’s where the movie flies off the tracks in the best possible way.
The main character, a charismatic sinkhole played by Dylan Minnette, quickly aggravates his neighbor, Jack Black, after flirting with his daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush). Zach breaks into his neighbor’s house after he thinks Hannah is in danger. He discovers original Goosebumps manuscripts in the house, and after a series of wacky events involving the abominable snowman (the one from Pasadena), it’s revealed that the neighbor is R.L. Stine.
Stine somehow imagined the monsters from Goosebumps into reality and used the manuscripts to keep them imprisoned. Unfortunately, the encounter with the abominable snowman released Slappy, a ventriloquist dummy with a napoleonic complex. Slappy quickly releases the monsters from the manuscripts and burns the books so there is no way to recapture them. He then begins a rampage across town as a way to get revenge on Stine for keeping him locked up for so long.
This is pretty much all a Goosebumps movie would need, but they decide to throw in an extra twist by explaining that the only way to capture all the monsters again is to write a story that involves every Goosebumps monster. It’s a fun and meta way of addressing the movie’s existence, they’re writing the plot for the movie as they go along.
They have encounters with classic Goosebumps monsters: the lawn gnomes, the giant mantis and dozens of others. It’s surprising how many they managed to squeeze in because the movie didn’t feel bloated at all.
It jumps between monsters, themes and scenes very frequently but there isn’t any sort of whiplash. The dialogue is extremely tight, for most of the characters, and the delivery is fantastic.
The movie’s cast is just brimming with charisma, with the exception of the main two characters. Jack Black’s performance of Stine as a sarcastic misanthrope elevates the film, and his chemistry with the best friend character, named Champ, creates some of the best scenes in the movie. Jillian Bell, from Workaholics, contributes an awkward and cringe inducing persona to her character.
The movie doesn’t really change the core formula of the Goosebumps books, with its positives and negatives. While the humor is solid, the character development feels weak and the main characters are cliched and drab. Zach and Hannah don’t really grow as characters, and the romance between them feels hackneyed and forced. The actors may be fine, but their purpose in the movie is to fill the generic main character roles and stay in the background while Jack Black captivates the audience.
Nostalgia makes it difficult to accurately judge a movie like Goosebumps. Most college students grew up reading the short horror/humor Goosebump stories, buying them from Scholastic Catalogs. They’ve developed an attachment to the series and a modern interpretation could easily create a backlash. But while the movie relies heavily on the nostalgia for the original books, the cast and plot carry enough charm to please even the most diehard Goosebumps fan.