There’s something odd going on across the street from DJ’s house, and when he discovers exactly what it is, none of us will ever be able to look at a carpet runner in quite the same way again.
DJ (Mitchell Musso) has spent years staking out the neighborhood crank, Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi), and his tumbledown house, the one in stark contrast to the otherwise pristine suburbs around it, all the while keeping a journal of exactly what he’s been confiscating from the hapless neighborhood kids who trespass by so much as a millimeter on his sinister lawn. The number of tricycles alone is in the double digits. Unfortunately, no one, not even his parents (Catherine O’Hara and Fred Willard) who are heading out on an overnight trip, are much interested. Neither is his head-banging babysitter, Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal). That goes for his best pal, Chowder (Sam Lerner), as spherical as DJ is gangly, who is more concerned about talking DJ into one last round of trick-or-treat before the inevitable growth spurt they both have coming puts an end to the Halloween ritual. It’s not the creepy house that’s keeping DJ from the candy booty that is fast approaching, though, it’s the six-year run of being egged by the other kids while on the sugar rounds.
Chowder’s attitude changes when Mr. Nebbercracker confiscates his new basketball, the one for which he mowed lawns and nagged his mother. Now it’s personal. It gets more personal for both of them when DJ’s attempts to retrieve the ball result in a trip to the hospital for the old man, and when Jenny (Spencer Locke), a pigtailed master of the deal and future captain of industry runs afoul of the house itself, as it goes on a rampage all on its own. With Halloween less than a day away, and a horde of innocent kids in danger of becoming a treat themselves, the trio take some iffy advice from Skull (Jon Heder) an over-14 master of a video game called “Thou Art Dead”, and plan an assault on the house, a structure that turns out to be not only deadly, but also anatomically correct. It has a uvula.
This is a great thrill-ride. The camera angles are dynamic, the dialogue wry, the story crackerjack, and the direction keeps everything moving along at just the right pace. The animation is clever without calling attention to itself, from beer bottles that reflect the world in a fun-house mirror way, to the way the house goes from subtle menace, a curl of smoke that shouldn’t be there, and a window cracking of its own accord, to a raging beast with splintering walls and riffling shingles. It’s a wonder and delight to behold. For all the mayhem and genuine terror that the house evokes in its determination to devour anything and everything that comes near it, the writing is equally meticulous in evoking with the terrors of growing up, including DJ’s voice that is starting to break and that sudden, gobsmacked fascination for the opposite sex with all the thrills and chills inherent therein. There‘s an edgy sweetness to the way the boys deal with the inevitable, one leaping into the abyss, the other clinging to the cliff for dear life. And something that rings exactly true with the way they squabble over the rules of calling dibs on a girl through a telescope.
MONSTER HOUSE works for kids and for adults. Scary, funny, and full of nice twists, it has all the makings of a Halloween classic.