Saturday night the husband and I went to the Roxy to catch a late showing of “Goosebumps.”
The movie hit theaters a week ago, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see it. The premise intrigued me — rather than using one or two books as a basis for plot, the story features author R.L. Stine as a main character, and all of his monsters have cameos. They quite literally come to life out of the pages of his original manuscript.
There’s a risk when a story becomes too self-aware. I had my doubts when Slappy (the ventriloquist dummy from Night of the Living Dummy) emerged from a book and greeted R.L. Stine (played by Jack Black) with full awareness of being a book character. There’s a high risk of being cheesy.
And while there are people who argue the book series was cheesy, the film was the perfect pitch of entertaining, funny, and homage to one of the most popular book series of my childhood. The movie never took itself too seriously, but it didn’t parody or cheapen its source material, either (which was my fear, since the film was self-aware of the book series’ content).
The majority of theatergoers Saturday night were 20- and 30-something parents with young children. (I thing the hubby and I were the only two viewers without kids.) The movie has a couple of jump-worthy moments (like when a crow burst out from behind a tree), but nothing too scary for youngsters. And there’s more than enough comic relief to keep parents amused — I particularly enjoyed Stine’s character puffing indignantly at being characterized as a lesser Stephen King. (In real life, Stine is frequently dubbed “the Stephen King of children’s literature.”)
My favorite part of the film, though, is the very open nod to the source material. If you grew up in the ’90s, you know the Goosebumps books.
From 1992 to 1997, R.L. Stine was a powerhouse of book production. His publishing history is enough to make any kid lit author feel sheepish. I feel strained putting out one book per year; there were stretches in which Stine put out one book per month. From January 1994 through December 1997, one Goosebumps title came out every month.
In every book order, kids would track down the newest title. The copies at the library were tattered by the end of the school year — how could they not be, with the number of book bags they got stuffed into and the number of hands eagerly turning pages?
Even though the tone of the film and its source material are targeted toward kids, 20- and 30-somethings still ought to see it. The phrase “For old times’ sake” is fitting in this instance — it’s nice to tap into the inner child and find some joy in a movie that lets us relive a popular literary series from our elementary school days.
A film for readers and writers
As an adult who grew up on a diet of Stine’s books, I liked the movie. As a writer, I loved the movie.
I’m one of those obsessive writers who collects anything writing-themed: books, art, knick knacks, and movies. “Goosebumps” just got added to my list of bookish flicks.
The plot emphasizes the idea of stories coming to life and the power of storytelling. Too bad for the movie version of Stine that the stories he brought to life were monsters that terrorize a town. Writing is a prominent element throughout the film, ranging from jokes about book sales numbers to playing a role in saving the day. Writers also will appreciate the special effects of ink swirling off the page to come to life as characters.
A bonus to this film is this generation of parents can share it with the next generation. The movie can introduce the Goosebumps series to a new wave of readers and offer an extra chance for parents to bond with young readers.
One more thing …
When I was 9 years old, “Night of the Living Dummy II” aired on the Goosebumps TV series.
The aftermath is one of my sister’s favorite stories to retell among family. When the episode ended, I desperately needed to go to the bathroom, but I was too terrified to go in there alone. I was certain Slappy would spring out from behind the shower curtain, peek from the cabinet under the sink, or burst from the toilet when I lifted the seat. (That last one generates the most laughs from my sister.)
In the movie, when Slappy emerges from the book, R.L. Stine groans. He acknowledges that, of all the monsters he created, Slappy was the worst one to have to face. Slappy goes on to become the primary antagonist of the movie.
At least if I had to be terrified of an R.L. Stine character as a kid, it was the one considered to be the scariest of all. There’s some vindication in that.
Although I doubt it will stop my sister from teasing me …