When Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) and his mom (Amy Ryan) move to small town Greendale, Maryland, they get more than they bargained with when they find out their neighbor is really famed author R.L. Stine and the demons and monsters he's famous for are more than just words on the page.
Yeah, your eyes are not deceiving you. This movie is getting a B+. You might think I'm crazy or sleep-deprived, but no, anytime a movie makes you go "this movie is Jumanji meets Hocus Pocus and I love that!" You know the movie is just fun. Critics, too often, become jaded and cynical when we watch certain films. That if it isn't an Oscar-worthy feature film then it's not going to be good. True, this film isn't going to be nominated for any awards, but that does not mean that it's not a fun and good film. We sometimes forget that a movie can just be fun and entertaining. Goosebumps is one of those films. The good in the film far outweighs the bad in the film. Let's start with the good.
The writers, Darren Lamke and Scott Alexander, take your usual teen horror film and kind of turn it on its head. The teens are smart but not a "smartass" smart. The parents and adults aren't clueless and the comedy sidekick, well, the comedy sidekick is still a loveable loser, but he does become a hero at the end. The writing is sharp and actually witty, it didn't feel forced. Dialogue is extremely important to me, as it should be for everyone, but if the dialogue doesn't sound natural then I will be pulled out of the movie. The dialogue felt natural and that is a very good thing. There is real emotion in the film, and that, I think, is both a testament to the actors (which I will get to in just a moment) and to the director Rob Letterman. Letterman had a lot to work with and did a really good job.
The acting is solid. There wasn't anyone that I would have re-cast (and you can always find that one person where, when you see the performance, you lean over to your friend and say "you know who would have been much better in this role?" None of that here). Jack Black, who plays both R.L. Stine and the ventriloquist dummy/mastermind "Slappy", does a fantastic job. Watching Black in these roles made me think of Better Midler in Hocus Pocus; they both took at role that could have been just another paycheck and they owned that role and made it fun and something entertaining to watch. The main villain of the movie, Slappy the homicidal ventriloquist puppet, was a great foil for the film and had some really funny one-liners. Dylan Minnette does a good job as lead protagonist Zach Cooper. The relationship he has with his mom is a genuine one and, once again, the writing is the source of the authentic relationships that stem out from the Zach Cooper.
Minnette's and Odeya Rush's chemistry was spot on, and another bright spot was the fact that Rush was not your normal "damsel in distress", but rather was the heroine of the film. Bold, brash and fearless, she was a great character and Rush had that right amount of heart and sarcasm to make the character hit that sweet spot of personality. And Ryan Lee's performance as the loveable loser sidekick, Champ, is a funny performance and carries over the awkwardness of the other characters he has played in both Super 8 and This is 40. He should be careful that he doesn't get typecast, but he plays these characters so well.
Now for the bad and while there wasn't a lot of "bad" in the film, there was enough keeping the film from getting a higher grade. The CGI at times felt very amateurish. I get that a movie like this probably isn't going to get a lot of money, but try a bit better. The practical effects, like with Slappy, were spot on, but the CGI for the Werewolf and the Abominable Yeti were just a little too ABC Family quality and not big feature motion feature. You sit there watching the film going "is this really the best they could do? Doesn't the CW do a better job on Arrow or The Flash?" While this might seem nitpicky, when the majority of this film is monster based, you would think they would give just that extra bit of effort.
The other misfire is Ken Marino who plays Coach Carr. Ken Marino is a fantastic actor and writer and director and is just a funny guy in general and when given good material can bring a small role to the forefront and make it work. The problem here is that his character seems shoehorned into the movie just so his mom has a romantic foil, but in the film itself it just doesn't work. Maybe there are scenes that were cut that will make these small scenes make sense. The reason that this is a big negative is that he isn't the only funny person who has small scenes. The very funny actress Jillian Bell, who plays Zach Cooper's aunt, takes her small yet very good reason for existing scenes and makes them just that much more funny. There is one scene that I won't spoil here that was a complete ex machine and sort of makes you moan and go "really?!"
These negatives aside, Goosebumps, is a wonderful family film, a great Halloween film and just overall a very entertaining and fun film. This isn't Halloween or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and you shouldn't be expecting blood and gore. If you have kids (keep it above 8-10 years old) or if you were a fan of the original series, this is a film that pays homage to the source material and genuinely cares about the fans. If you loved Hocus Pocus or Jumanji (and let's be real, that should be 99.99999% of the population), you should watch this film. Go and enjoy yourself and have fun!