Watched Monster House. Well, uh, it was nice to finally watch it, but it did nothing for me. Mind you, the fact one of the writers apologised for it might have skewed my first impression.
There’s a grumpy old dude who don’t like kids! One kid, DJ, spies on the house and notices that toys lost on the lawn are never seen again. After accidentally giving the old man a heart attack, he notices weird, freaky stuff going on, including people going missing. He and his friends investigate.
If that doesn’t sound interesting, about an hour in we discover that the house is actually an angry woman’s soul. And the house has got, like, a digestive system. Does that sound cool? To me, it’s cool! It’s a pity we only learn it an hour into the film.
That’s my major beef with the movie – it just takes a long time for it to really get interesting. I don’t think it helps that I watched Disturbia a while back that covered the “spooky neighbour does spooky shit” genre in a more engaging movie (okay, Monster House is a kids’ film, but would it be too much for me to say that it should still aim to be engaging despite of that?), but while Monster House has a house with a giant prehensile rug that swallows people and junk, it takes nearly an hour for the characters to actually enter the house… and that’s when things get interesting!
Until then, the kids witness several things get eaten and make a couple of attempts to investigate, but on the whole it felt slow-paced and uninteresting. There’s a few okay jokes, but none of the characters were appealing. At least, none of the main characters. After they enter the house, they discover that the crotchety old man had married a circus fat lady who had been harassed by people all her life, and while being pestered by trick-or-treaters had an accident and was killed, and her angry soul is manifested in the house. The old man has since tried his best to keep her soothed and to protect people from falling victim to her, well, eating them. It’s pretty far-out, and it’s a really, really interesting angle to take. But like I said, it’s not mentioned at all until the final half hour, and it’s absolutely criminal to keep such an interesting plot twist away from the audience for so long. There’s only so long you can hold a mystery, especially when the initial house-eating-people just isn’t executed that well.
And, really, what’s the moral? Don’t take fat chicks into your home because when they die they’ll manifest into your house and use it to eat people? It doesn’t really have the time to establish the old guy’s wife as a character – it shows he was sympathetic to her by giving her a proper home away from the circus, but there’s only a couple of scenes, if that, where she comes across as amiable. The rest of the time she’s getting violent at people harassing her (which you could say means being harassed by folks was a big part of her life, but that’s just a Freudian excuse, it doesn’t tell us anything about her personality). It seems to suggest that if the old guy chose not to extend a hand of sympathy, the whole malevolent house thing could’ve been avoided. So, don’t help anyone, because there’s a possibility when they die they’ll come back from the dead and you’ll have to spend the remainder of your life keeping them at bay. You broke it, you bought it.
The story and pacing can be a bit hokey, but I could have suffered less if the look of the film wasn’t so… unsightly. The visual style was very hit and miss for me. It’s only afterwards I discovered it uses the same motion capture tech as The Polar Express… and I guess it’s not quite as freaky as what I’ve seen of that film, but it just seems out of place. The character design is more cartoony than that film, but it still comes across as a lot more realistically-styled than a lot of other CGI kids’ flicks. Characters have hair that looks ‘sculpted,’ like you’d see on a clay model or a marionette (think Gerry Anderson’s productions), and I suppose the rest of the character design aims for that look… but it just looks horrifying. Characters look blank, lifeless and ugly, and more often than not look like animated corpses.
A few side characters actually managed to look decent, like the two cops, DJ’s dad and the old guy, but the fact that mere side characters have the most appealing designs in the film… I don’t know what you’d call that. Poor decision making? It’s something John K. mentioned on his blog somewhere, but it irks me that ‘heroic’ characters or protagonists have to look ‘pretty’, or at the very least generic. The kids are ugly, but not a good kind of ugly – the bland and obnoxious kind of ugly. If they were “full ugly” with big noses and exaggerated features it could be appealing, but having to look at their gormless faces for the 90 minute duration bugged me to no end.
But you know what looks really terrific and is animated brilliantly? The house. When the kids enter the house, that’s when the movie really comes to life – it’s dark, it’s creepy, it’s dripping with atmospheric, and most importantly, it’s creative. It’s a strange alien environment for the kids to explore, and it felt like a lot more of the movie could’ve been spent in there. And when it comes to life… man! That animation! One thing I love about stop-motion animation is that when it comes to animating giant freaky monsters, the stiff, unnatural animation plays in its favour so well. This is the first time I’ve seen CGI animation capture that vibe near perfectly. The house, using giant trees for legs, moves and articulates in a suitably monstrous fashion, and has a fantastic design. They should’ve just made the movie about the house. No, I mean, literally. The everyday doings of the giant man-eating lady-house.
I’m the sort of person who likes to watch a film and come away having learnt something, be it how to tell a good story or visual storytelling or whatever, even things like “what not to do” – particularly in animated films. I’m not sure what I can learn after having watched Monster House. If a CGI movie is going to be motion-captured, just have everyone wear bags over their heads? Those bloody zombie faces, man. I’d like to live the remainder of my life without having to see stuff like that.
If anything, I’m tempted to see how awful the video game adaptation is.
(I’m kind of disgusted I wrote so much on a kids’ movie. Not even a good kids’ movie!)