Every kid has "that house" on their block. The one you never go near, fear walking by, and never even think about walking up to. That is the essence of 'Monster House.' Watching this movie really jogged memories from my childhood of a scary, dark house down the block, where a scary old man (who shall remain nameless) lived. I think that's where this movie had me sold. It works so well, because it's so easy to relate to.
'Monster House' is a very simple story. It centers on a pre-teen named DJ (Mitchel Musso). He is starting to want to do more grown up things and stray from childish activities. DJ lives across the street from a mean old man named Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi) and DJ spends hours on end watching him and his house while taking notes of any strange activity he observes. The story kicks into gear when DJ's friend Chowder (Sam Lerner) comes over with his new basketball to shoot a few hoops. The ball rolls onto Mr. Nebbercracker's lawn and DJ goes to retrieve it, causing Mr. Nebbercracker to come outside, have a heart attack, and appear to die. With Nebbercracker out of the picture, his house soon comes alive and starts eating people, including two police officers (Kevin James and Nick Cannon), and a guy named Bones (Jason Lee), who was dating DJ's babysitter (Maggie Gyllenhaal). With so many people disappearing, and Halloween coming up, DJ, Chowder, and a girl named Jenny (Spencer Locke), team up to destroy the house and save the many potential trick-or-treating victims who could soon be approaching.
This movie achieved something that's usually difficult for animated movies: It created an element of fear and uncertainty. I didn't know what was going to happen to these children while they were exploring a clearly dangerous house. I especially enjoyed the scene in the main room of the house, when a beam of light searches the floor to see if anyone is there. This brought to mind the scene from 'War of the Worlds,' where the robot snake searches the basement. Not surprisingly, one of the executive producers of 'Monster House' was none other than Steven Spielberg.
Beyond the movie itself, it's also worth noting the amazing motion capture technology that was used to produce this film. Director Gil Kenan had actors interact with each other on a set and captured their motion. This produced some of the most amazing character movements seen in a movie up to that point (note: this movie was from 2006 so I mean up to that point, not including more recent movies). One of the special features extensively dives into this aspect and will be discussed later.
Overall, 'Monster House' found the winning combination for me, excellent story, great characters, and solid animation. This is a great example of the potential for other animation studios to compete with Pixar.
'Monster House' arrives as Sony's second commercial 3D Blu-ray release in the US market. After the beautiful 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,' Sony had a great deal to live up to, and I'm happy to report that they have delivered.
'Monster House' arrives on 3D Blu-ray with a spectacular 1080P/AVC MPEG-4 transfer. The overall style really goes against the standard for clean, pristine animation from Pixar and other studios. This animation style brings to mind films like 'A Nightmare before Christmas' and 'Corpse Bride,' and overall, it does very well in 3D. The strength of the transfer comes from the incredible depth and realistic textures. Objects that are far apart feel as if they have distance between them. A cool example comes when the kids are looking down the "throat" of the house. It actually feels like a terribly long ways down. Sony really seems to know what they're doing when it comes to creating depth in this format. There is also a complete lack of "3D gimmick" shots. The only moment that comes close is a scene in which water is shot toward the camera. I also noticed that the background smearing problem I had mentioned in earlier reviews ('Monsters vs. Aliens,' and 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs') seems to have been fixed. I didn't notice any smearing throughout the entire film.
Textures were also very impressive. Objects like tree bark, a basketball, roof shingles, and the leaf at the very start of the film appear very realistic. My favorite example had to be the leaf floating towards the town. This film takes place over Halloween, so Fall is in full swing. The close up shots show perfect, rich, golden Fall colors, while at the same time displaying the textures that go with a dying leaf. It looked like you could reach out, grab it, and crinkle it into tiny pieces in your hand. Overall, I have really come to feel that texture is the most welcome aspect to modern stereoscopic 3D. When an object has perfect texture in the third dimension, you really feel like you can reach out and grab it, and that helps to draw you into a movie in a way 2D can't accomplish. When handled poorly, and texture is lacking, it's more like looking at a pop-up book (looking at you 'Clash of the Titans').
Aside from excellent depth and textures, this movie also does very well with color reproduction. Colors are very representative of the season. Golden browns and lighter greens are displayed perfectly for the time of year. Things aren't overly bright or too dark, the atmosphere was captured just right in my opinion.
I was only able to spot one very minor problem with this release. There were two instances of ghosting during the final scene at the construction sight. This was the only time in the entire film that I noticed this problem, so it was hardly any distraction.
Overall, this was a top of the line transfer.
'Monster House' features an impressive DTD-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that easily lives up to the high standard set by the video.
This track has a little something for everyone. Dialogue is perfectly clear, while noise from the background never distracts from what characters are saying. The surround and action effects are also very impressive. In scenes that feature the house coming to life, listen closely and you can clearly hear the sound of wood breaking on the porch and glass breaking in some off screen part of the house. The surround effects are also excellent. Though not featured often, when these effects are present in some of the more action packed sequences they create an incredibly immersive experience that complements the 3D effect.
I was also very impressed with the little details this soundtrack included. Its clear a great deal of work was put into recording realistic sound effects in things like the sound of a basketball bouncing on a driveway, leaves blowing in a tree, and the cracking and shattering of glass. Everything sounded very life like and added to the top notch audio.
(Note: the original release of 'Monster House' on Blu-ray back in 2006 featured an English PCM 5.1 soundtrack.)
As with with 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,' all you get with this release is recycled features from the original Blu-ray release. Fortunately this isn't a bad thing, since most of what's offered is very interesting.
'Monster House' is another solid 3D release from Sony Animation. It's nice to see Sony continuing to step up and do the right thing by releasing 3D content to everyone, not just owners of Sony products. This release also shows some significant strides for the format. To date, this is one of the strongest technical releases, and it's clear Sony has moved past some of the early growing pains for the format (background blurring and ghosting). It will be interesting to see how these adjustments will carry over to live-action releases of 3D Blu-ray movies, since animation is a very controlled environment, while live-action should have more conditions to account for (when some movies finally earn a 3D release).
'Monster House' is a very enjoyable movie for viewers of all ages. Kids will love the humor, while adults may find themselves recalling memories of the scary houses of their childhoods. Toss in excellent 3D picture and audio quality plus some good extras and this movie comes recommended.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.