Monster House: Film Teaches Kids to Be Suspicious

Sony Pictures, what were they thinking? The company’s new animated feature really isn’t your run-of-the-mill Pixar-ish flick for the little ones. Though the trailers and commercials certainly make it seem like it is.

Just to give you an idea of its novice atmosphere. Director Gil Kenan has virtually no credits. So, one might say it’s pretty good for his first one. Writer Dan Harmon is credited with a short, “Laserfart” (I’m not actually sure what more I could say there). Co-writer Robert Shrab boasts the short, “Robot Bastard,” to his credit.

The movie is rated PG. But, it’s advertising market seems to be for those under 12. Most kids older than 12 who I spoke to thought it was boring, while those under 12 said it was either scary, “not as good as Monsters, Inc.,” or had no comment because they asked to leave the theater.

So, how did they manage to lure in big voices from the likes of Catherine O’hara, Kevin James, Nick Cannon, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Steven Buscemi and Kathleen Turner?

The plot centers around three teenagers who decide to get to the bottom of the strange goings on in the house across the street. After one character worries that he might have been the cause of the owner’s death, he believes the house is out to get him. Now, here, for adults, the animation (lighting, shadows, 3-dimensionality) is quite something. But, if you are sitting with a child under age ten, you spend more time checking if they are watching or hiding. The dad next to us constantly reassured his 4-year-old that it was all “so silly”. This, while the boy would close his eyes and hum.

As parents or other adults view the film, they might wonder: “what exactly is the message”? Nearly every kids’ movie has one of three messages. One: be nice and life works out. Two: be grateful for what you have, things could always be worse. Three: Listen to your parents, they usually know best (this message gets challenged the most.)

So, Monster House’s message? Here is what I got. One: be very suspicious of your neighbors, especially if they are old. Two: Treat women like objects (Big, fat houses; air-brained babysitters; co-dependent mothers; possibly smart girls who to be ogled by cartoon characters.) Three: Don’t listen to your parents. Four: Babysitters are evil. Five: Chubby adolescent boys do stupid things.

In all, I found very little redeeming qualities about this animated 90-minute film. As movie patrons we should not be patronized. With all we have learned about the world, don’t we have more to offer our children? Why can’t babysitters be smart, or kind, or creative? Why do animated stories continuously create villains who are either old, stepmothers, spinsters or gothic teens?

I believe “Monster House” tried too hard to counter the syrupy Disney features. If you are interested in darker children movies, try: “Spirited Away,” “Howl’s Moving Castle;” or “Nightmare Before Christmas.” At least these have unique ways of depicting children’s themes and offer young people more to think about, like impact, responsibility and hope.

If you are going to take your children to the movies this summer, “Monster House” is one you can miss.

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