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Heroes of the Zeroes: Monster House

by on July 22, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Monster House”
Rated PG

A wholly enjoyable throwback to ’80s puberty-peril films, 2006’s “Monster House” served as the Zeroes’ only film to make the case for performance-capture cartoons. (“Avatar” used the same technology, but wasn’t an animated film per se.)

Kids with a pliable Claymation look replaced the dead-eyed youth of “The Polar Express,” and “Monster House” pounded into a common childhood memory of the neighborhood “haunted” house.

Here, that home becomes a formidable foe for D.J., Chowder and Andy — kids battling the Nebbercracker house, a demonic domicile luring trick-or-treaters to its door to eat them.

The house’s frame is clearly a face with wood-splinter teeth and even a gag reflex. When the home rumbles to life, it resembles a beastie from “The Wall” and roars with the voice of an actress slyly playing against her last animated-film appearance.

Not surprisingly, this creates even more of a freak-out than it might seem. Some jump scares will get even adults. And with a sad tale at its center, and an almost-invisible body-image message, it isn’t just campy middle-school macabre. Tim Burton-ian elements are blended with a tender look at boyhood.

D.J. and Chowder try to act older than they are, but aren’t ready to leave behind stuffed animals and insecurities. Not in any icky way, the boys discover their own bodies as they discover the house’s “body” (an interior arranged like organs to match its face-like frame).

And after “Polar’s” annoying imperative to believe, damn you, in Christmas, “Monster House” refreshingly promoted Halloween’s mischievous magic.