Monday, July 24, 2006

Monster Questions

I think I've mentioned before that I'm not a great connoisseur of animated films, having seen very few in the last 3 decades. My points of reference are the Disney classics of my childhood: Snow White, Pinocchio, 101 Dalmations. So I come to "Monster House" with a different expectation than most of the rest of the audience. I see the very realistic animated people on the screen, in very vivid and realistic settings, and I wonder why isn't this a live action film? What am I getting from this fake almost-not-quite-human human, that I couldn't get better from seeing the actual human? The boy who read all these lines into the microphone in the recording studio, what does he look like? (According to his imdb pictures, he looks rather a lot like his cartoon alter ego.) Isn't it as interesting to watch him act as to listen to him act? Why is this weird-moving plastic-y thing better?

I don't have this problem with animated - well, animals. Obviously. You can't cast "Over the Hedge" with your friendly neighborhood hedgehogs, raccoons, and possums, who tend not to take direction well. ("Look sad. No, not like you lost your favorite acorn, like you lost your whole family to a pack of wolves!") And, I suppose it is reasonable to suggest that the monster house itself is not going to work as a sixty foot tall wooden structure with mechanical levers twisting its boards and flapping its shutters. (C'mon, I'm not giving anything away, am I? I mean, you've guessed already that the house is a... monster?) But aren't most of the "monsters" we see in films CGI anyway? Isn't it common practice to have real actors and fake everything else around them? So why didn't they just do that here?

Ah, so many questions for a simple children's film. Although I agree with the majority of reviewers I've read who say this isn't a movie for small children. It has its moments of real terror. And visually, it's very dark and claustrophobic - close camera angles, zooming perspectives. I liked all that, and once I got used to the way the animated people moved, I started to like them, too. There's some great dialogue and character interaction. In fact, I really liked the whole film until... the very same moment that lost me in "The Incredibles" and would probably turn me off in all the other animated films I've missed: the big climatic action scene. I don't like action movies, thrillers, car chases, big huge physical confrontations, etc. I used to fast-forward during the fight scenes in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (which was one of my favorite shows) because I grew bored watching the fight - all I needed to know was who won. That's how I feel with these movies, too - I'm bored watching the house chase the kids, or the Incredibles chase the bad guys (sorry, I can't even remember who they are), because the actual action itself is meaningless to me. I don't see any beauty in the chase or the fight. Just tell me who wins.

So, yeah, I was all there until about an hour in, then just wanted to keep checking my watch, but the scenes are pretty dark, so I couldn't even see it to tell the time.

Don't base your decision to see it on me, though - if you like that kind of thing, you'll probably like this film a lot.


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