Thursday, March 22, 2007


Animation with an edge

By Edward Copeland
It's always seemed to me that the entertainments I remember most fondly as a child, whether live action or animated, always had something scary about them. I know many a child who feared that those damn flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz would really come to get them or who truly felt it when Snow White died or Bambi's mother got shot. So how is it that most of what's perceived as "family films" have become so bland and nonthreatening? Thankfully, that's not the case with Monster House which I just caught up with and truly made me feel like a kid again without condescension.

Directed by Gil Kenan with a story and screenplay by Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab and Pamela Pettler, Monster House provides one of the most breathtaking fun rides I can recall recently.

It was one of the three nominees for this year's Oscar for animated feature. I still haven't caught up with Cars but I have to admit that I gave up on the winner, Happy Feet, after about 25 minutes. Monster House grabbed me from the beginning and held my interest until the end with its simple tale of the creepy house across the street and the mean old man who wants the kids to stay out of his yard (well voiced by Steve Buscemi).

What's great is that all of the characters have development that seems unusual for an animated work from the kids on the verge of puberty, to the young budding entrepreneur, from the goth baby sitter and the clueless cops to the spacey parents (voiced by Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara, whose brief appearances here serve them better than For Your Consideration did).

If the story lags a bit in the final act, so much of what went before more than compensates. On top of that, the look and animation of Monster House is damn amazing.

From its opening shot of leaves falling that you would swear were actual leaves, the film perfectly bridges the gap between realism and fantasy in its animation. Monster House truly is fun, no matter how old or young you are.

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I loved Monster House. It reminded me of the kind of scary (but not TOO scary) movie that I totally dug when I was a young kid back in the 80's (and it's interesting to me that the film uses a lot of 80's technology: tape cassettes, 2-D video games, etc); sort of like an extended Amazing Stories episode (and, in fact, the song that the young girl riding the bike sings in the film's opening sequence sounds suspiciously to me like the John Williams theme to the Amazing Stories TV show). Good stuff.
A good reason why Monster House stands out, if I may venture, is because they used some pretty fascinating new technology (check out the DVD extras) where the actors really acted out all the scenes, and their movements were recorded on a 'virtual' stage. The director then used a device that mimicked an actual camera and allowed him to move around the virtual scenes. This gave the film complete fluidity in the camera blocking, etc., couple that with the real actors and I think it really shows in the final product. It's the first CGI movie I've ever seen that truly *feels* like a regular movie.
A typical action movie last reel didn't mess up the bulk of this one. I loved Monster House. You're right, it did make me feel like a kid again.
almost made my top ten list and i was sure, instantly, that its following would grow as soon as it debuted on DVD. yay.
You disappoint me, sir, for not sticking with Happy Feet - while I can't say I understand any large problem with the first half hour, the "true gold" is from the second half on, by far, which is absolutely groundbreaking, for not only its' direction, but for so many other things.

Also, the score is just breath-taking. John Powell's best work, yet.

You really should give it another chance. It is a George Miller film, you see.
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