Monster House

Photo: Monster House: Sony Pictures Imageworks

The notion of a creaky old house that goes beyond haunted — a house that, in fact, actively haunts, lunging around the neighborhood to chase after the overly curious — is so cool, it’s a wonder no one’s ever thought of it before. The mysterious manse that gets star billing in the smartly delirious animated thriller Monster House is possessed of windows like eyes and a flying bit of carpet that unfurls tonguelike out the front door to scoop up trespassers. Mr. Nebbercracker (voiced by Steve Buscemi), the old coot who lives inside, is only a minor meanie compared with this house that roars at three brave little neighborhood kids. (Other stars supplying vocals include Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kathleen Turner, and Napoleon Dynamite‘s Jon Heder, who’s sweeeet as a videogaming pizza flunky.)

Feature first-timer Gil Kenan directs with a zingy sense of kids, comedy, fright, and visual perspective. But the movie also shimmers and shakes in all its motion-capture animated beauty with the slyly deep sensibilities of executive producer Robert Zemeckis. (Zemeckis’ not-too-shabby fellow exec prod is Steven Spielberg.) Emotional darkness doesn’t just loom in a Zemeckis movie — it taunts, it surprises, it winks, and sometimes, it flashes a skull grin when drawn, as in Cast Away, onto the surface of a ball called Wilson. It just so happens, a Wilson spheroid is gobbled up in Monster House, too: How freaky, and how fun.

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