U.S. Release Date: July 21, 2006
Distributor: Sony / Columbia
Director: Gil Kenan
Producer: Jason Clark (executive), Steven Spielberg (executive)
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Nick Cannon, Maggie Gyllenhaal (Voice), Jon Heder (Voice), Kevin James (Voice), Jason Lee, Catherine O'Hara, Kathleen Turner, Fred Willard
Running Time: 1 hour and 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor and brief language)

Latest C.G. Monster Underwhelms
by Scott Holleran

Maybe these pixilated animation movies are losing their luster, but the latest computerized kid picture, Monster House, is a grind. The story is straightforward enough, but the sum total is underwhelming.

Suburban Mom and Dad leave pubescent son DJ (Mitchel Musso) at home with the babysitter (Maggie Gyllenhaal) just as strange things are happening across the street at Mr. Nebbercracker's (Steve Buscemi) old house. The set-up is campfire creepy, with the demonic house gobbling up a tricycle and other goodies, making menacing expressions and scaring the neighborhood kids, including DJ's rotund buddy, Chowder (Sam Lerner).

A pretty girl (Spencer Locke) arrives selling door-to-door cookies and she becomes entangled in the boys' adventure. So far, it's the stuff of an old-fashioned Scooby-Doo (the TV cartoon) episode or a Hardy Boys mystery. When chubby Chowder's stray basketball rolls up to the house, leading to a confrontation between DJ and mean old Mr. Nebbercracker, hell is about to break loose in suburbia on Halloween.

But it does not happen. With the squeaky-voiced boys pining for the more mature girl, the trio enter the scary house—Mr. Nebbercracker is temporarily out of the way—and, once inside, they get into predictable mischief. The plot introduces a carnival freak back story that brings out a side of DJ which is out of character and Monster House practically becomes another movie.

From then on, it offers a relatively tame, haunted house formula, with a showdown at a vacant lot development. Visually, the characters have disproportionately big heads yet they move exactly like people. Autumn leaves blow in time for Halloween, as the story requires. The house is appropriately imposing, but, once the monster's unmasked, the story deflates.

DJ's likable, and his pal Chowder works in a few chuckles. Gyllenhaal's babysitter with a mean streak hasn't been done in a while. But Monster House needs more to sustain it than cute lines, sight gags and scares. Even tricked with the newest technology, it makes a mediocre treat.

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