After The Polar Express, one of the weirdest-looking animations of recent times, Robert Zemeckis then decided to (wisely) go down the Pixar route and gave up on trying to get his characters to look as real as possible, instead keeping them stylized and cartoonish to a certain extent. This worked out ok for A Christmas Carol and this earlier, Halloween-themed effort which he produces.
Monster House sees a group of 3 kids find out that the house across the street, where a scary old man lives, is not only haunted but alive and literally attacking people if they get too close. It's an odd but kinda genius take on the slasher genre as our serial killer isn't even flesh and blood but wood and brick! I love the design of the house, by the way, director Gil Kenan (City Of Ember) finds a whole bunch of clever ways to make it into a real threat for our characters: its walls become teeth, the trees around it become its arms and hands, it swallows anything that lands on its front lawn. This house doesn't mess around so you can imagine, when its owner seemingly passes away and these kids start snooping around, it's not in the best of moods.
The film has a fun, retro feel to it, its characters are reminiscent of the types you see in 80's horror movies or stuff like The Goonies or E.T. (Steven Spielberg shares a producer credit, by the way). From the careless babysitter to the cowardly, not-too-bright chubby kid, this is very much a movie for those up for a bit of nostalgia. The kids, DJ, Chowder and Jenny, are all great, very likeable and they are given strong support by a solid cast which includes Catherine O'Hara, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee and Steve Buscemi (as old man Nebbercracker). The humour isn't too childish so there's enough here to please younger viewers as well as adults, although... it might even be too scary for little kids so be warned.
Like I said: that house doesn't mess around.
The plot is simple but well-put together so you get into it pretty much instantly and you've got neat twists along the way, that said, the animation can be a bit jarring at first. Now it's not Hoodwinked! bad but it's certainly not Pixar either, you do get used to it soon enough because the design of the settings and characters is very good but at first it is a bit too "computerey", I'll admit. Forget rendering every single hair on everyone's head, here they just look sprayed on. On the other hand, the facial movements are spot-on so it's a bit of a weird one visually but it works far better than Polar Express. That's for sure.
Those soulless puppet people creep me out...
Overall, Monster House is a fun, clever, scary, sweet, very funny (and a tad twisted) little film that's perfect for Halloween but also a genuinely good kids' film as a whole. It's stylish, well made and what it lacks in detailing where the visuals are concerned it makes up for in pure popcorn entertainment.