A boy called DJ (Michael Musso) lives across the street from Nebbercracker – the always excellent Steve Buscemi – a nasty old man whose truly scary house comes alive whenever anyone dares to walk on the front lawn.
So it’s a bad idea to go trick or treating there on a spooky Halloween in Middle America’s most suburban suburb. Don't say we didn't warn you.
When it comes to children’s movies, being scary is much healthier than being sickly sweet so it’s great to see a film that tackles that age old fairy tale tradition of being frightening and fun at the same time.
Monster House taps into the psyche of childhood fears and games with a sure touch. There are definitely some looking through your fingers moments here, but all but the most over-sensitive kids will love this film. There’s nothing in it half as terrifying as that moment in Beatrix Potter when Squirrel Nutkin has his tail cut off.
Shot in so called Digitation – filmed live action that is then animated – this is the best example of the style so far.
The action takes place in the middle of Middle America at that most memorable time in childhood when puberty starts dropping hints and distracting typical American kids from healthy pursuits like basketball and computer games.
DJ, who will be Donnie Darko in a couple of years, is just such a boy. The film cleverly plays with the idea that a house that eats humans is no more confusing or surprising than anything else when those hormones start to stir.
Much of the humour comes from DJ’s relationships with the adult world and there is plenty here for the grown ups in the audience which will tactfully skip their children’s radar.
The parents who are going away over night and can hardly suppress their sexual excitement, the Goth baby sitter Zee (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who just wants DJ out of the way so that she can get better acquainted with her hilariously characterised dope head boyfriend (Jason Lee) and the cops, one lazily corrupt and the other stupidly over zealous are classics in a Hollywood tradition that stretches from Laurel and Hardy to LA Confidential.
The best material however is left, quite rightly, for the kids as they struggle to defeat the fantastically realised nightmare house.
DJ himself, his voice still switching registers as he tries to behave like a man; his best mate, Chowder (Sam Lerner) who has not traveled so far down the road from playground to first kiss and Jenny (Spencer Locke) the object of both boys’ affections who is fully their equal in adventurous spirit and, as is always the case, streets ahead of them in the ways of the world.
In the insightful audio commentary, Gil Kenan - who it emerges had only just graduated from film school before being hired to direct - leads us through every aspect of the movie’s creation from casting to animation.
There are also seven featurettes entitled Imaginary Heroes, Beginners Luck, The Best of Friends, Lots Of Dots, Black Box Theater, Making It Real, and Did You Hear That, which reveal secrets on every stage of the filmmaking process from conception through to the post-production stages.
The special features package is completed by an “Art of Monster House” photo gallery but, sadly, there are no games to keep the kids amused as was the case on last month’s superior Over the Hedge.
Infinitely better than the woeful Cars, it creates a real world but at one step removed allowing director Gil Kenan to create scenes of havoc and horror which would have sent kids screaming from the cinema if shot with real actors.
So buy it for your kids - no question. If you haven’t got any, well buy it anyway. This movie speaks with two voices
Staring: Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Musso, Sam Lerner, Spencer Locke
Directed by: Gil Kenan
Extras: Audio commentary, Featurettes, Multi-angle evolution, 'The Art Of Monster House' gallery