Bright Lights Film Journal

Monster House in 3-D: No tobacco juice, but funny!

It’s sad but true: no one does spit tobacco juice on the audience in Monster House. But even without that little dollop of echt authenticity, this film, directed by Gil Kenan (who he?), and written by Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, and Pamela Pettler, is the best 3-D film for kids, and the best feature-length cartoon for kids, that I’ve seen since those halcyon days known as the nineteen fifties.

Monster House was largely put together by two of my not-so-favorite Hollywood people, Robert Zemeckis and Stephen Spielberg, who certainly don’t need all the money they’re going to make off this flick. But the truth is, they’ve earned it.

A few of the jokes in Monster House are a bit too clever, and “uvula/vagina” bit probably won’t go down too well in Bush Country, but this is one cartoon where the “over the kids’ heads” shtick isn’t the point.[1] Neither is the plot, really, which relies heavily on the path well-trodden by Harry, Sam, and Hermione. It’s the sheer display , the brilliantly conceived and executed action sequences that keep topping themselves over and over again. We pretty much know what’s coming overall, but the twists and turns that get us to the finish line are superb.[2]

My one (very) big complaint with Monster House is the rookie black cop, who makes Stu Gilliam look like Fifty Cent. In fact, if Stu is still alive and kicking, he’s probably going to kick my ass just for making the comparison.

The last kid’s cartoon feature I really enjoyed was Disney’s Peter Pan, way back in 1953. Lady and the Tramp (1955) was kind of goopy, even with Peggy Lee doing the vocals, and Sleeping Beauty (1959) was a serious disappointment. Not only was the animation trashy (Walt should have been ashamed, but I’m guessing he was too busy poling Annette), but just seeing the film at age 15 was a brutal reminder that I wasn’t a kid any more. Since then I’ve seen a lot of the new Disney, like The Lion King, Toy Story, and Finding Nemo, and they’ve all been yawners. The competition, like Shrek and The Incredibles, aren’t that bad, but still, they aren’t all that, and the anime I’ve seen (not a lot), isn’t as good. As for 3-D for kids, hey, Bwana Devil, House of Wax, they were all great, though it was that nameless oater that used the audience as a spittoon that I remember the best. Since then, of course, it’s been largely a 3-D desert.[3] So let’s face it: if you’re looking for a fun way to kill an afternoon, you may as well put a few bucks in Bob and Steve’s hip pocket. They’ll be glad to take it.

For adult cartoons, there’s always Sylvain Chomet’s Les Triplettes de Belleville, a hot French riff on Django Reinhardt, polliwog potage, and endurance cycling. For adult 3-D, never forget The Stewardesses in 3-D. It wasn’t tobacco juice coming out of the screen.

[1] As is de rigueur for these flicks, Monster House is fitted out with a stable of “celebrity” voices , a fairly B list crowd who don’t add a whole lot, none of whom I cared about except Catherine O’Hara. Any project that gives work to a Second City TV vet is a good thing. But where were Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas, Andrea Martin, Eugene Levy, and Rick Moranis?

[2] Monster House uses the computer-generated animation first used in Toy Story, which I’ve never cared for. The kids’ faces still look a bit plastic, but otherwise I have no complaints.

[3] 3-D was so big back in the day , 3-D comic books, 3-D everything , and then it all vanished, like, well, like mah-jong. It was the first great loss in my life, but, sadly, not the last.