Goosebumps

 

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Inspired by the creatures ‘invented’ by R.L. Stine - the “Stephen King of children’s 

literature” – Goosebumps fails to amaze or amuse.

   

In the pantheon of children’s literature, R.L. Stein succeeded Roald Dahl and preceded J.K. Rowling. And, like both those authors, he understood that children are not afraid of being afraid. In fact, his most successful series of books were published under the collective umbrella of Goosebumps and produced such titles as Fright Camp, Are You Terrified Yet?, Attack of the Graveyard Ghouls and All-Day Nightmare. Oft described as the "Stephen King of children's literature," Stine has actually outsold King by fifty million books. But unlike the latter, none of his books has been turned into a feature-length movie – until now. And more’s the pity. Instead of just adapting one of his novels, the screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski hit on the idea of writing a fresh outline, introducing R.L. Stine as a leading character and featuring a bundle of creatures from his oeuvre. The result, of course, is CGI hell with a preponderance of excess.

 

Goosebumps

Where there's a wolf: Jack Black and Dylan Minnette run for their lives

 

The set-up is conventional enough, with the familiar template of a new kid arriving in town, his discovery of a mysterious and unsavoury neighbour and then, unwittingly, his unleashing of a maelstrom of mayhem on small-town America. It’s a formula exploited in everything from The Lost Boys to Beautiful Creatures, and after a somewhat mundane start, the film just lurches into an endless array of running away from increasingly bigger effects. No doubt, if Michael Jackson were still alive, he would have popped up to contribute a musical sequence. For sure, there’s a girl, a geeky best friend and even a school dance, a trope that predictably ends in havoc (Carrie will be smiling in her grave).

 

The problem is that the film is neither remotely funny (Jack Black is wasted as R.L. Stone) or scary. The Harry Potter films set a new bar for this type of thing and Rob Letterman’s Goosebumps limbos way beneath it. It's one thing to be frightened of a sinister ventriloquist’s dummy, quite another to tremble at the sight of a gallimaufry of ghouls, gnomes, aliens, a werewolf, Yeti, mummy and colossal praying mantis. Here, as in the chaotic and congested Jumanji, more definitely proves to be less.

 

Rob Letterman previously directed Jack Black in the depressingly dreadful Gulliver’s Travels, and pays tribute to the fact in a scene in which Stine is tied up by an army of garden gnomes. It’s an unfortunate reminder.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan, Ryan Lee, Halston Sage, Jillian Bell, R.L. Stine (as Mr Black).

 

Dir Rob Letterman, Pro Deborah Forte and Neal H. Moritz, Screenplay Darren Lemke, from a story by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Ph Javier Aguirresarobe, Pro Des Sean Haworth, Ed Jim May, Music Danny Elfman, Costumes Judianna Makovsky.

 

Sony Pictures Animation/Village Roadshow Pictures/LStar Capital/Original Film/Scholastic Entertainment-Sony Pictures.

103 mins. USA/Australia. 2015. Rel: 5 February 2016. Cert. PG.