STUDIO: Sony Pictures
MSRP: $28.95
RUNNING TIME: 91 Minutes

  • Filmmaker Commentary
  • 7 Featurettes including: Imaginary
    Heroes, Beginner’s Luck, The Best of Friends, Lots of Dots, Black Box
    Theater, Making It Real, Did You Hear That?
  • Evolution of a scene: Eliza vs. Nebbercracker
  • The Art of Monster House – Photo Gallery

The Pitch

“It’s Kathleen Turner
meets…a house!”

The Humans

Steve Buscemi, Maggie
Gyllenhall, Jason Lee, Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner, Spencer Locke, Kathleen
Turner, Fred Willard, and Catherine O’Hara

The Lowdown

It’s a wonder that first time feature director, Gil Kenan,
hasn’t been swamped with offers for other films after this impressive
debut. From the opening, where we’re
treated to an impossible, meandering, tracking shot following a leaf on the
wind (ala Forrest Gump) and then the path of a little girl riding her
tricycle, he proves that he’s got some directing chops.

From there, we’re introduced to our main characters DJ
and Chowder. The writers of Monster
haven’t tried to over complicate the characters here, and aren’t
really doing anything new. Which is
fine. DJ is stoic and more serious minded. His best friend Chowder is his opposite, a
video game playing clown who likes to make armpit noises.

Mr. Nebbercracker dies of a heart attack, which DJ thinks is
his fault. That night, he starts getting
calls from the house, though nobody is there.
He is convinced that Nebbercracker has taken possession, and now is
the house. After Chowder tries to
convince him otherwise, and the house tries to eat him…. they think that maybe
something’s up. This is when they meet
Jenny, the precocious, smart, cute girl of the neighborhood, and promptly fall
in love with her. DJ and Chowder rescue
her before the house can eat her, and after they both fail at impressing her,
the three of them decide they need to do something about the killer house.

The three main characters all talk and act just as pre-teens
should, which I think is where the heart of Monster House lies (not in
the furnace, as the movie would have you believe.) This is a testament to the performance
capture technology used in the film, as we get to see all the tics and
awkwardness that pre-teens have. A lot
of this has to do with the actors being able to play off each other naturally,
without reading from separate booths one at a time as traditional and computer
animated film dialogue is normally recorded.
Though sometimes it is weird to be able to see certain actor’s traits
come through the physical performance of a character; Catherine O’Hara and
Jason Lee’s characters in particular, though it never detracts from the film.

In fact the only characters who detract from the film are
two policemen, played by Kevin James and Nick Cannon. Whenever they show up the film slows down to
a halt. They’re not funny and are an
artificial means of moving the plot forward.
The movie didn’t need them.

Another great thing of the film is its stop motion animation
look. A look I learned they achieved by
taking out the motion blur, which is something that happens naturally during a
stop motion film. It gives everything a
just-off-normal, slightly creepy vibe, and adds to the fun of the film..

This film has gone leaps and bounds above The Polar
, which used the same technology to very horrid effect. The performance capture technology itself is
interesting, as the filmmakers get the spontaneity of a live action film during
the “filming” stage of the process, but they get all the nuance and caricature
of an animated film in the final product.
It’s just as viable as any other form of animation, and despite what
people say, it’s nowhere near as “point and click” as some would imagine it to

The Package

It’s got a fairly comprehensive set of bonus material, with
seven featurettes that cover the genesis of the film. The most interesting being the ones where
they explain how they capture the action of the actors and then how they use an
actual “camera” to give the film a human touch.

The commentary is worth a listen, though sometimes it gets
confusing, as there are many contributors to the track and the only guy who
introduces himself is the director, Gil Kenan.
He also explains the process of how the film was made, and what it was
like working with the three main kids.
More power to him, judging by a few of the featurettes that were
shown. Those kids are hyper.

We get a progression reel called ‘Eliza versus the
which shows us the progression of the opening shot from
animatics to the final product. I liked
this feature, as we see how much keyframe animation is still involved to make
the character performances come alive, and isn’t completely based on what the
actor or actress is doing at the time.

The real bonus on the disc, though, is the ‘Art of
Monster House’
feature. Gil Kenan
has thrown all of his ‘beat boards’ onto the disc for us to see. The beat boards are beautifully drawn and
rendered, giving us the events of the film in the order that we see them.

All in all, a great film to pick up. I hope this is the start of a successful
career for Gil Kenan, and that this isn’t the only family film he makes that actually
entertains the whole family.

8.0 out of 10