The latest from the Zemeckis/Spielberg stable is not in the same class as The Polar Express, but far superior to the majority of Shrek wannabees. The problem is not that it's too scary, but that the concept is too difficult to comprehend. Also, the rules of engagement are never explained. When a house eats people does it actually chew them up, or dump them in a larder for later?

It begins conventionally enough. It's the day before Halloween and DJ's parents are going away for the weekend, leaving him under the supervision of babysitter Zee, who's only interested in playing loud music, staying up late, hanging out with stoner boyfriend Bones and being cool. From his upstairs bedroom, he observes the spooky, dilapidated house opposite and the behaviour of Mr Nebbercracker who lives there. He won't allow anything, or anyone on his lawn, which has a habit of swallowing objects.

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After Mr Nebbercracker collapses in a rage and is carted off to hospital, the house takes on a life of its own. DJ and his pal Chowder are joined by smartyknicks Jenny, as they attempt to unravel the weirdness of this building that changes shape and actually devours people. Calling the cops, who turn out to be a classic comic double act, is a complete waste of time. They are (gulp!) on their own. Even the legendary Harry Potter would need his full range of magic spells to cope with this one. The script is possibly too imaginative for its own good. The characters are beautifully observed. DJ is nerdy, thoughtful and sensitive, without being the slightest bit wet. Chowder talks big and acts scared. He's chubby, smiley and a natural show off, who is guaranteed to cock it up when the going gets tough. Jenny is sensible, quick witted and smart. As DJ and Chowder appreciate, she's not girly at all, and yet is, in a good way.

The CGI animation is what they call in the trade "top of the range" and the effects are eye boggling. Where the film falters is in the storyline. It goes too far. How can a house behave like a dinosaur and chase kids? To say it's haunted by the spirit of a fat lady does not explain any of this. Even the paranormal has limits to what can and cannot be done.

As a result, the fear factor is affected and the film becomes a showcase for those clever people in the special effect dept. The ending is pure Spielberg. In tying up the loose ends, it is important to show that no one was hurt. There should have been a disclaimer: "in the making of this movie, no CGI animals were harmed."

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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Monster House packshot
Three teenagers investigate a haunted house which turns out to be a real live monster.
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Director: Gil Kenan

Writer: Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab

Starring: Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner, Spencer Locke, Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, Kevin James, Nick Cannon, Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard, Ryan Newman, Jon Heder

Year: 2006

Runtime: 91 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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