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Gil Kenan
Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner, Spencer Locke, Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, Kevin James, Nick Cannon, Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard, Jon Heder, Kathleen Turner
Writing Credits:
Dan Harmon (and story), Rob Schrab (and story), Pamela Pettler

There Goes The Neighborhood.

Even for a 12-year old, D.J. Walters has a particularly overactive imagination. He is convinced that his haggard and crabby neighbor Horace Nebbercracker, who terrorizes all the neighborhood kids, is responsible for Mrs. Nebbercracker's mysterious disappearance. Any toy that touches Nebbercracker's property, promptly disappears, swallowed up by the cavernous house in which Horace lives. D.J. has seen it with his own eyes! But no one believes him, not even his best friend, Chowder. What everyone does not know is D.J. is not imagining things. Everything he's seen is absolutely true and it's about to get much worse than anything D.J could have imagined.

Box Office:
$75 million.
Opening Weekend
$22.217 million on 3553 screens.
Domestic Gross
$73.034 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.40:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 91 min.
Price: $28.95
Release Date: 10/24/2006

• Audio Commentary with Director
• “Evolution of a Scene: Eliza Vs. Nebbercracker”
• Seven Featurettes
• “The Art of Monster House” Stillframe Gallery
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Monster House (2006)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 27, 2006)

My, can audiences be fickle! 2006’s Monster House seemed to have everything going for it. The flick featured the always-popular computer animation techniques, bore the imprimatur of Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis as executive producers, and received many fine reviews. However, it didn’t really click with moviegoers, as the film took in a mediocre $73 million. For many efforts, that’d be a nice take, but compared to the results of its contemporaries, it doesn’t look like much. After all, Cars snagged a tidy $243 million, Ice Age – The Meltdown grabbed $195 million, and even Over the Hedge managed took in $155 million.

Did House deserve a better fate? Probably. House provided a mostly satisfying mix of comedy, action and scares to create something unusual.

Set on the day before Halloween, House introduces us to DJ (voiced by Mitchel Musso), a pubescent kid obsessed with crotchety old neighbor Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi) and his creepy old house. DJ hangs out with tubby nerd Chowder (Sam Lerner). When Chowder accidentally drops his basketball on Nebbercracker’s lawn, the fearful fatty convinces DJ to retrieve it despite the potential threats from the old man. He does so and comes under assault from Nebbercracker, an act that apparently results in the heart attack death of the curmudgeon.

From there, spooky things start to happen. DJ gets odd phone calls that appear to come from Nebbercracker’s place, and he quickly comes to feel that it’s haunted. At first Chowder doesn’t believe in this, but after a close encounter, he buys into the cause. Sometimes movie release schedules don’t make much sense to me. Wouldn’t it have made much more sense to put out Monster House a week or two before Halloween instead of during the crowded summer season? Maybe DVD schedules have become more important to studios; after all, the film’s July 21 release date allowed it to hit DVD on October 24, all primed for pre-Halloween sales and rentals.

Whatever season fits House best, I think it works pretty well as a movie. My prime complaint about the flick relates to its “performance capture” form of animation. This films the live-action actors as motion elements and then pastes animated characters on top of the rough skeletons. Polar Express used these methods in an unsatisfying way, largely due to the creepy look of the characters. Express attempted a fairly realistic appearance for its participants, but the animation was so stiff that it made the people look like zombies.

That’s not as much of a problem in the more stylized House, but I still think the depiction of the characters distances us from them. House resembles a stop-motion animated flick more than a traditionally animated one; indeed, its characters remind me a lot of the humans from James and the Giant Peach.

That works fine for an actual stop-motion movie, but it seems off-putting here. There’s an awkward stiffness to faces that makes them look like plastic masks. They don’t emote cleanly so they keep us at a distance; it’s somewhat hard to buy into the characters when they come across in such an unnatural manner.

Despite that flaw, House packs more than enough kicks to make it succeed. Some have complained about the movie’s dark tone; they deem it too scary for kids. I suppose that depends on the child in question, but I don’t think it’d be too frightening for little ones as long as they’re not absurdly little; nine and up seems about right to me. Yeah, the film has some scary bits, but so do many children’s classics, and this one doesn’t appear particularly horrific to me.

I think the flick’s darker elements help it to avoid the goopy side so prevalent in “kids’ films”. This one acts as something of a coming of age movie – it reminds me of Big in its underlying themes, actually – but it never indulges in the saccharine qualities so typical of the genre. It presents reasonably realistic kids and has them act in believable ways – well, believable given the supernatural construct of the story.

House deftly balances comedy, action and horror. One element never overtakes the other, and none of them come at the expense of the others, either. The pieces come across in a natural manner and don’t interfere with each other.

I like the ways in which the movie subverts the standard haunted house genre. Granted, it indulges in some predictable elements; I won’t discuss them since they might act as spoilers, but some of the “surprises” aren’t exactly revelatory. In any case, as the story progresses, it does follow some unconventional paths, all of which make it more intriguing than expected.

A consistently solid voice cast completes the package. We get plenty of quality adult actors in supporting roles, but the three young leads carry the day. They infuse their characters with real tones and fit their parts well.

I don’t think I’ll ever cotton to the spooky animation techniques featured in Monster House. Unlike the consistently unsatisfying Polar Express, however, the quality of the rest of the production allows it to overcome that obstacle. The movie should work for kids and adults, so chalk it up as a winner.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A/ Bonus B

Monster House appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though usually excellent, the picture was a little less consistent than I’d like.

My only minor concerns related to sharpness. For the most pat, the flick seemed accurate and well-defined. However, wider shots occasionally appeared a bit soft. These issues weren’t major, but they didn’t create the expected level of rock-solid delineation I expect from CG animation. At least no jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no edge enhancement. Source flaws also created no concerns in this clean presentation.

With its late October setting, the film’s palette went with a warm, orange-dominated fall tone. The hues consistently looked great. The colors seemed vivid and rich throughout the flick. Blacks were also deep and dense, while shadows offered good definition. Despite some light softness, this was a strong visual presentation.

In addition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Monster House worked even better. With all the creepy activities at the titular abode, the mix got many opportunities to involve us in the material. These varied from quietly spooky scenes all the way up to loud, brassy action sequences. The track took very good advantage of all five speakers to form a vivid, exciting soundfield.

Audio quality followed in the same vein. Speech was always natural and distinctive, and I thought music worked well. The score showed good dynamics and range at all times. Effects showed similarly positive definition. Those elements were clean and concise, and they also boasted very solid low-end response. Across the board, this was a terrific mix.

In terms of extras, House comes with an audio commentary from director Gil Kenan and a smattering of others. Kenan presents a running, screen-specific piece into which the other notes are edited. We hear from a mix of additional personnel, but the DVD lacks any credits for them; the other speakers just appear without attribution of any form.

Although that’s annoying, it doesn’t create a tremendous negative in this strong commentary. We learn how Kenan got the project and also learn about casting and performances, animation and the use of the performance capture photography, visual design and stylistic choices, influences and inspirations, score and editing, themes and story issues, and other filmmaking notes. The track consistently throws out interesting material with very little fat along the way. The discussion digs into all aspects of the production with gusto as it fleshes out our understanding of the project and the production. This is a terrific track.

Inside Monster House consists of seven separate featurettes. These include “Imaginary Heroes” (3:30), “Beginner’s Luck” (2:27), “The Best of Friends” (2:41), “Lots of Dots” (2:29), “Black Box Theater” (4:14), “Making It Real” (6:04) and “Did You Hear That?” (2:56). I viewed these via the “Play All” option, so I treated them as one seven-part documentary.

Across the featurettes, we get the usual mix of movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. These feature Kenan, producers Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey, sculptor Leon Rijn, conceptual artist Chris Appelhans, technical animator DJ Hauck, production designer Ed Verreaux, motion capture supervisor Demian Gordon, visual effects supervisor Jay Redd, lead senior technical animator John J. Meehan, executive producers Jason Clark and Robert Zemeckis, sound designer Randy Thom, supervising sound editor Dennis Leonard, assistant sound designer William Files, and actors Spencer Locke, Kathleen Turner, Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner, Jon Heder, and Steve Buscemi.

The programs look at character design, casting, the relationship among the three young lead actors, performance capture methods and elements, animation processes, and sound design. Because the commentary covers so much territory, we don’t learn a tremendous amount of fresh material here. That said, there’s more than enough good info to carry us, and the footage from the set helps compensate. I like the comments from the actors about the challenges of working in performance capture, and it’s great to see them on the virtual sets. These featurettes flesh out the production well.

Evolution of a Scene: Eliza Vs. Nebbercracker breaks down into two different areas. First comes a two-minute and 55-second featurette. This presents notes from Kenan as he discusses the various steps required in this sort of animated flick. We see these elements as he gives us good details about how they’re used to create the movie.

“Evolution” also gives us some multi-angle material. We can view “Eliza” in six ways: story reel animatic, performance capture, layout stage, animation, final film, and a composite of the other five. The two-minute and 49-second segment shows us the movie’s opening scene. I enjoy this kind of material and think that this feature gives us a good look at the different stages within the animation process.

For some stillframe materials, we go to The Art of Monster House. This splits into “Conceptual Art” (59 frames), “People” (67) and “Places and Things” (38). Plenty of good images show up here.

The DVD opens with a few ads. We get promos for Open Season, Zoom and Spider-Man 3. These also appear in the disc’s Previews area along with trailers for RV, Are We There Yet? and the 2006 Pink Panther. No trailer for Monster House appears here.

Although I have some misgivings about the movie’s style of animation, Monster House entertains enough to make up for those concerns. A good mix of action, comedy and horror, the film presents something different and fun. The DVD gives us very good picture, excellent audio, and a small but informative set of extras. This is a nearly ideal Halloween flick for the family, so it earns my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.2222 Stars Number of Votes: 18
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