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Robert Zemeckis has put his efforts into such films as Cast Away, The Polar Express, Back To The Future, Romancing The Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and more. He's had some less than desirable films such as Contact, sure, but all around he's given much more joy than feelings of wanting to kill myself. Steven Spielberg is well known for his work on Jurassic Park, E.T., Indiana Jones, Hook, just to name a few. To see the two of them work on a computer animated film about the mystery of a living Monster House that was to be aimed at all audiences as opposed to just children, I was pretty pumped.
This film was released over the summer and everything about it screamed it was for Halloween. I was hoping that this could have been seen on the big screen around that time but I'm finding myself a little thankful that I was able to watch this title in the comfort of my own home during the ghoulish holiday season.
At the heart of our story we have a boy named DJ. He's right at the start of that terrific wonderland of a time in life we all like to call puberty. He's young but he's right at that age where it's time for him to say he might be just over the hill for going trick-or-treating. He's becoming man number two in his house, yet his parents still require him to have a babysitter. He's a child at heart but he's struggling to be more mature. He has a friend by the name of 'Chowder' that reminds us of Chunk from The Goonies. He's got a big mouth, and acts inappropriately to an obnoxious extent yet makes us remember the excitement of being a kid. He's the balance to DJ in this formula for animated cast as they bounce off of each other pretty well. The phrase 'opposites attract' thing couldn't be truer here. Throw a cute girl in between them and watch their personalities collide for some childish yet almost charming adult fun.
Stuck in between their childhood and adult worlds, adventures aren't a thing from the distant past. They were almost literally from 'yesterday' for our main characters, yet now they have a real live one on their hands and have to decide what to do. Do they go on an adventure of a lifetime or do they try and act mature and keep their noses out of the business of a neighbor across the street?
It all starts with a local legend from that house across the way with old Mr. Nebbercracker. He's always been very particular about his property and anybody who has ever set anything past his property line, was taken away never to be returned. One day when he has a raging fit as DJ is attempting to recover a basketball that rolled onto Nebbercracker's lawn, the old man collapses and is sent to the hospital. Without the ambulance throwing on the lights and siren, all signs point that Nebbercracker may have succumbed to the fiery inferno under our feet. Later on that night, strange things start to happen that all inevitably point to the house across the street. More and more signs start to show the revelation that it's quite possible that Nebbercracker as particular as he is about his lawn and house, may have never actually left his property. Is it possible that he's possessed his house in order to ensure that it remains safe?
Monster House taps into children with its adventure and comical fun, while bringing adults into this world with the ideology of the 'monster house'. Who hasn't had some house somewhere in their neighborhood that didn't have some sort of story or legend behind it? There's always been that one creepy place that no kid would dare go near, and that aspect of the story is really brought alive by this film. It's even been obviously heightened to those dark depths of the 'what if', those deepest and darkest fears all children have had about that house on their block.
Gil Kenan had directed this feature and it's a shame he hasn't been given as much recognition since you have Zemeckis and Spielberg presenting this title. They all had a big hand in the process though, and they've made a memorable film thanks to an atmosphere controlled by its terrific ability to bring story to screen. I felt throughout every shot in this film that this was a Halloween movie. The shots, the colors, it all reminded me of fall and more specifically the time of year that was meant to be portrayed. Of course outside of this important aspect of atmosphere, everything else needed to be wrapped up pretty tight in order to have an engaging story. Good acting, and some unique imagery in order to make this 'monster house' live up to its name.
There are many recognizable names in this cast that really drive the characters home. Steve Buscemi is great as cranky old Nebbercracker. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the spunky babysitter, Kevin James and Nick Cannon play a couple of clunky police officers, Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard are DJ's parents, and Kathleen Turner is Nebbercracker's old love, Constance. The animation in this film has done a great job of not just acting as a vehicle for these actors and actresses, but every mannerism you see really keeps the voices alive with the same mannerisms you might expect from the people who are lending their voices. I think more so here than in any other film as of yet, there's a line that's being crossed when trying to determine what's real and what's animated in the way of the mannerisms. The only other computer animated films that may have broken this mold ever more would probably have to be Final Fantasy and The Polar Express. The flicks just mentioned though are meant to look as realistic as possible, yet Monster House has an animated feel to it but really brings life to the film without making all the characters look real. In fact, each character has aspects to their body that are exaggerated to make them a little more fitting for the realistic yet story book looking Halloween movie.
Monster House is presented in a very nice 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer. Black levels are important for the atmosphere in this film, and they're fantastic. They're solid and are consistent throughout the feature, while everything else maintains lively colors for terrific contrast. There's no film marks or grain to speak of as well. This is a very nice transfer for a film that almost demands it by its look.
There's 5.1 Dolby Digital in both English and French, while also giving us subtitles in each language as well. The 5.1 tracks are always spot on and provide some nice dynamic range in order to help bring the house alive. The surround sound is usually very subtle in quieter scenes for some realism, and then explode from every direction when the action picks up.
Right from the bat you'll notice the slipcover included with this DVD has an interactive animation wheel on the front of it. Turn it and you'll see the scene on the cover and on the inside of the cardboard slip move forward. It's more of a novelty than anything but a nice touch none-the-less.
There are some featurettes that include:
Imaginary Heroes, Beginners Luck, The Best of Friends, Lots Of Dots, Black Box Theater, Making It Real, and Did You Hear That. These are all very short features that cover an overview of every aspect that makes this film a whole. You'll get explanations of how they came to make the style of this film, characterization, sounds, motion capture, and performance capture. They're all pretty short so they're not dull and they're pretty informative for being just glances at the entire process of Monster House overall.
Multi-Angle Evolution shows us a scene between a victim in the film and Nebbercracker, and the entire process behind bringing it all to life between the storyboard and finished product.
The filmmakers partake in a commentary that doesn't disappoint. You'll hear about every aspect of the film in a very detailed manner. This includes the process of finding the right cast, the animation process, everything about the characters as they change throughout the film, and none of the information is presented dryly. The filmmakers are excited to be bringing us information on this project, especially Kenan! He never really seems to be humming or hawing over what to say. He's chock full of information that will really make the listener appreciate everything that went into making this film.
Other than that we have a photo gallery for the art of this film, as well as some online content that we can access such as wallpapers and buddy icons.
Monster House does a wonderful job of captivating the audience. It doesn't matter if you're young or old. It's entertaining in many aspects that children and adults alike can appreciate. The acting brings alive fun, adventure, and fear, while making it all over the top with the same great capture technology that had been used for The Polar Express. This movie is destined to become a fun film for the family that everyone can enjoy every year once the leaves turn red and orange, on a dark night when there's nothing for light outside except some carved pumpkins on a porch. I have to highly recommend this DVD for you all as it's fun as well as funny, and even a little spooky at times. There's a pretty nice presentation overall with the commentary and other featurettes that have all been included on a single disc. I'm sure they could have given us a ton more on a second disc, but with all the information that's presented to us with the short featurettes as well as the nice commentary I don't feel as if we're missing out. All of this together with the creative slipcover and fantastic video and audio, and Monster House made for the best Halloween feature of the season that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!