Monster House
Review by Heather Seebach

Monster House These days, making an animated film without Pixar or cute talking animals is a risky endeavor. But when your movie is backed by two of the biggest filmmakers in the universe, you must be doing something right. Monster House, produced by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, is an animated fantasy about three children who discover a man-eating monster house in their suburban neighborhood on Halloween. It stars a talented voice cast including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, Kathleen Turner, and Steve Buscemi. First time director Gil Kenan combines an eerie Tim Burton-like style and occasionally risqué humor to tell a classic monster story.

The most striking aspect of Monster House is the animation. Using the “performance capture” technique previously featured in Zemeckis’ The Polar Express, live actors were filmed wearing special suits with reference dots glued at each of the actors’ joints and facial expression points. Computers then capture all important points of movement in 3D space and the animators use this data to re-create the movement, proportions and even subtle nuances of the actors. The development of this groundbreaking technology marked a merger of digital animation and traditional live action, allowing an actor’s subtlest facial expressions to be translated into the computer-generated world with the utmost fidelity. This type of animation is ideal when you want to retain strong characterization in a sky’s-the-limit fantasy world.

The performance capture technology has greatly improved since its inception, but in Monster House, it is used modestly. Whereas Express was hyper realistic at the expense of sincerity, House allows its characters to retain their cartoonish nuances. After all, what’s the point of animation if it looks like live-action? Every visual aspect of this film – from leaves, to people, to the monster house itself – breathes charm and personality. Kenan achieves a powerful level of realism without losing the imaginative look upon which animated cinema is based.

Fresh out of film school, Kenan shows great potential as a director. In addition to his solid grasp on animation, this young filmmaker delivers some fantastic shots and turns House into a tense but enjoyable fantasy. Parents: be warned, some scenes may be too scary for the little ones, so heed the PG rating. If there were such a thing as a children’s horror movie, this is it. But adults won’t feel left out – there are some mature jokes that will fly over your kid’s head but have you chuckling.

The movie feels like a classic bogeyman story, as if written by Roald Dahl and adapted by Tim Burton. Monster House goes beyond the standard animated fare, delivering stunning animation and tons of bizarre fun for all ages. While an October release date would have been more appropriate, a little Halloween in July never hurt.

Potential: Exceeded

Also recommended The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), The Sandlot (1993), James and The Giant Peach (1996).

Monster House is produced by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis and stars the voices of Steve Buscemi, Jason Lee, Catherine O’Hara, Kathleen Turner and Fred Willard. It opens July 21st and is rated PG for scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor and brief language.

©2006 Thomas Huff and Heather Seebach,

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