Movie review: "Goosebumps" turns books into spooky roller-coaster ride

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

Given the popularity of the series and the popularity of turning young-adult fiction into money-in-the-bank film adaptations, the release of a "Goosebumps" movie was, in a word, inevitable.

Author R.L. Stine's spooky series for Scholastic trails only J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books for best-selling book series of all time (albeit with 62 novellas versus seven books) with more than 350 million copies sold. While those bite-size treats don't lend themselves to a feature film, the makers of "Goosebumps" found a way to keep the spirit intact in a roller-coaster paced movie.

Teenager Zach (Dylan Minnette) isn't exactly thrilled about his mom (Amy Ryan) moving the family to sleepy Madison, Delaware, for her new job as his high school's vice-principal. One bright spot is his fast-developing crush on his neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush), although her overbearing father (Jack Black) makes that a challenge.

A clandestine visit to Hannah's house with his new friend Champ (Ryan Lee) makes things come into focus, when the children accidentally unleash a creature from the pages of a book in her father's study. As it turns out, her dad is none other than R.L. Stine.

If you'll give the makers of "Goosebumps" a pass on this "books come to life" concept, you're in for a lot of fun. It's self-aware enough to have fun with the setup, which leads to a wild mixed salad of Stine's greatest hits.

The movie is heavy on the visual effects - it's actually co-presented under the Sony Pictures Animation banner - which makes sense, since director Rob Letterman got his start in animation with "Shark Tale" and "Monsters vs. Aliens."

Fortunately, "Goosebumps" is more than just a sandbox for virtual creatures. Its tone feels more in line with '80s kid-venture movies, the most obvious being the underrated "Monster Squad." There are also hat-tips to "Gremlins" and less kid-friendly movies including "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "The Shining."

The chills are still of the kid-friendly variety that Stine revels in (the author, a Columbus native, even makes a cameo), and there are plenty of laughs, even if the film tries a bit too hard on that front. Not an actor known for his subtlety, Black mugs and emotes, but I'm not in love with his casting.

It's not a classic, but "Goosebumps" will be a certain crowd-pleaser.


3 stars out of 4