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[photo: Sony Pictures]

Social media has already spent years plundering ’90s nostalgia for all its worth, and Goosebumps is likely a sign of things to come for pop culture. Besides Harry Potter, Goosebumps was the most popular children’s book series of the decade. But while it got a TV adaptation at the same time the original iteration of the books were being published, the climate wasn’t quite right for a full-fledged film. Now, with Goosebumps not merely popular but entrenched in the psychological background radiation of two whole generations, is the time. Hence, Goosebumps the film.

The movie runs with the conceit that R.L. Stine’s books were in fact written to literally contain his runaway imagination, as at a young age Stine (Jack Black) discovered that anything he thought up could come into reality. He had to imprison the various monsters and ghouls he created in his manuscripts. But not long after teen Zach (Dylan Minnette) moves in next door and falls hard for Stine’s daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush), he and his friend Champ (Ryan Lee) accidentally cause all of the sealed spooks to be released. The quartet must then race around their small town to find a way to recapture the rampaging creations.

Anyone who retains their youthful fondness for the Goosebumps books will most likely be pleased at long game of spot-the-monster the film provides. As a bonus, each one has been designed to resemble the way illustrator Tim Jacobus visualized them on the myriad covers of the books. The quality of the special effects themselves are as spotty as you’d expect a CGI-heavy Hollywood film working under a $60 million budget to be, but the main audience is kids who probably won’t mind too much. In fact, kids will likely take to the film in general, since it remains lively throughout. It’s also quite funny, and in a way that relies more on character interaction than gross-out humor. Lee in particular is quite adept at playing the coward, and Black is reliably rubber-faced and game for pratfalls.

The only kid-unfriendly element of the film isn’t actually the parade of creatures — while they’re utilized for many a jump scare or suspense scene, they’re all cartoony enough to not seem like too much of a nightmare-inducer (which might be a disappointment for anyone who thinks that kids could stand to use a good scare now and then). Instead, the utterly strange love story between Zach and Hannah feels misplaced. It’s not that children’s movies shouldn’t bother with this stuff (although really, how many young kids are sucked into it?); it’s that the two of them banter like clever adults. It’s weird. Additionally, Hannah functions more as a plot device than a real character in the back half, which is unfortunately the case for most of the movie’s female characters (although Jillian Bell is very fun).

Goosebumps is fun, but there’s a better film than what ended up on screen lurking in the wings. It entertains ideas about the nature of creativity and the writer’s personality, and of isolating oneself versus opening up to the world, but it’s all very shallow. Zach’s withdrawn personality in the aftermath of the death of his father is connected to Stine’s reclusiveness, but it’s a weak idea. Given the fleeting, disposable nature of the source material (Goosebumps books never ran more than 200 pages), it actually feels rather appropriate that the movie is enjoyable enough but also ultimately forgettable.

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