Monster House

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Photograph: Sony Pictures Imageworks
Monster House For further information please contact the Sony Pictures Releasing press office. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Imageworks Copyright: © 2006 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Most kids’ flicks, especially the animated kind, tend to rely on overly sunny dispositions that can cause pancreatic damage in many adults. Even with a Halloween backdrop, this feature-length toon—in which a lad (Musso) deals with the spooky domicile across the street—initially suggests nothing more than a Fisher-Price My First Haunted-House Movie for the 12-and-under crowd. You can tell as the film gets under way, however, that something else is going on: Siouxsie and the Banshees substitute for Smash Mouth on the soundtrack, and the story centers on grieving and letting go, a largely verboten subject for children’s entertainment. This isn’t your parents’ animated movie, but it’s not necessarily your kids’ either, unless your offspring have been weaned on a steady diet of Tim Burton, Lemony Snicket and bedtime readings of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.

The tonal difference allows director Gil Kenan to unveil his dark materials in a pleasantly gothy manner, though structurally, Monster House sticks to a conservative template. Once the boy and his misfit friends get to the bottom of things, the movie switches into roller-coaster mode, jacking up chase scenes and dutifully delivering the expected spectacular brouhaha. Peripheral characters like Gyllenhaal’s spiky baby-sitter and Heder’s Napoleon Dynamite retread don’t wear out their welcomes, but they’re also not very well used, one of several signs pointing to Kenan’s greenness. Still, there’s a refreshingly macabre edge to this family-friendly fare that sets it apart from the Disneyfied pack. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — David Fear

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