How cool is Monster House? The song picked to play over the closing credits is not some Alan Menken bullshit, but “Halloween” by Siouxsie and the Banshees. This new animated feature from Sony, opening nationwide July 21, will likely face an uphill marketing battle for that very reason: the target audience is the audience who remembers Siouxsie and the Banshees. Doesn’t sound like Cars or Doogal, does it? But, rest assured, Monster House is probably the most unexpected Hollywood delight of the summer, otherwise known as a “sleeper.” Yet, when was the last time a major studio animated feature was a “sleeper?” I don’t know how many people will see Monster House, but there’s a very clear audience, and that is the people who wouldn’t think they should see it.
I saw the film tonight as part of the nationwide Ain’t It Cool News 10th anniversary screenings. AICN founder Harry Knowles played host to a great evening at the Alamo Drafthouse on Lamar. It’s July 10, and the show started at 10 p.m., to mark the occasion. Before the film began, we were treated to trailers of ’80s cult classics such as The Explorers and Monster Squad, and this set the perfect tone. If you don’t have a memory or care for either of these two films I just mentioned, read no further. If you do… Monster House is your movie.
More than just your standard, “kids versus the world” adventure film, Monster House is a time-capsule of ’80s-era adventure. The “executive producer” credits for Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis are obviously not just for show. This film plays just like Back to the Future or Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, pumping gallons of imagination into a package of skillfull animation and a very witty script. But, who will go and buy tickets? It’s a pretty scary film for most little kids, and odds are that most adults won’t blindly see an animated feature revolving around children on Halloween. But, perhaps they should. And, perhaps both audiences should see it together.
Set around a trio of suburbia kids on October 31, who must do battle with a very-much-haunted house, the film uses a pretty common American gothic tone as the launching pad for some great characters. The voice talent includes: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, Jon Heder, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, and Steve Buscemi. Is that just not one of the quirkiest/oddest/coolest/most-inspired vocal casts you’ve seen in a major animated feature? As rumor has it, the film’s concept began as a live-action script, which totally makes sense considering the cutting dialogue and character nuances that you don’t normally find in an animated film. Want some proof? That original screenplay was written by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab, who wrote the acclaimed Jack Black/Ben Stiller TV pilot Heat Vision and Jack, and are working with Sarah SIlverman on her upcoming TV show. Their script was polished by Pamela Pettler, who worked on the screenplay for The Corpse Bride.
Why should I spend so much of your time writing about Monster House? It’s more than just an enjoyable film, it’s a completely refreshing one. It’s the kind of film that probably could not have been made inside the world of the studios without the support of Spielberg/Zemeckis, and that’s sad but true. It’s almost too smart for its own good. It’s the kind of film that has no clear audience, and as many of us know, that sometimes is the number one ingredient for some of the best entertainment.