Studio: Columbia Pictures
Director: Ari Sandel
Writer: Rob Lieber, Darren Lemke
Producer: Deborah Forte, Neal H. Moritz
Stars: Wendy McLendon-Covey, Madison Iseman, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris, Chris Parnell, Ken Jeong, Bryce Cass, Peyton Wich, Jack Black
When Slappy the dummy besieges a small town by bringing Halloween decorations to life, three teens track down an unfinished R.L. Stine novel to stop him.
Fans of R.L. Stine’s Slappy the Dummy are in luck. It looks like someone evidently said, “pump as much Slappy as possible into the second movie since the knee-high character remains the property’s most recognizable face.” As a result, “Goosebumps 2,” which dropped its “Haunted Halloween” subtitle for its home video release (because marketing teams don’t believe anyone buys holiday-themed movies out of season), exclusively features the wisecracking wooden puppet for well over half of the runtime. Everyone else will have to hit the backside of that midpoint before other creative creeps join the manic mash-up of monsters and mayhem.
The story starts with a scene we’ve all witnessed before. A teenage boy sneaks through his girlfriend’s bedroom window, but to deliver Pringles and Red Bull while she works on her college application essay. This is a PG movie after all. “Goosebumps 2” is nothing if not responsible, finding agreeable ways to shape clichés with some charm.
Sarah struggles with writing about fear. She’s not entirely sure what the topic means to her. Sarah faces fear firsthand though, when her science nerd younger brother Sonny and his pal Sam bring home some junk from a nearby haunted house.
Sonny and Sam found a dusty book and dustier ventriloquist dummy behind a secret wall in the spooky old home. Sonny made the mistake of reciting strange words written on the back of a card in the puppet’s pocket. Now Slappy is up to his old antics again. His mischievous magic turns neighborhood Halloween decorations into chaotic creatures wreaking havoc all over the formerly sleepy little town.
It turns out the book is R.L. Stine’s long lost, unpublished first novel. It holds the key to combating Slappy’s creations. The problem is, school bully Tommy stole the tome. Worse, Stine never finished the book and has since gone into Salinger-esque seclusion. Without a proper ending, the kids aren’t sure how to stop Slappy from concocting his own conclusion to the story.
As it intends, whether viewers want this feel on a feature film or not, “Goosebumps 2” toys with a Disney Channel TV tone. Ever-present music runs alongside the plot’s sprightly pace with an airy John Williams skip in its step. Literal and figurative color pops out of every set, setup, and personality. “Goosebumps 2” more or less mixes typical teen drama with a Spielberg-style childhood adventure to achieve its vibrant vibe of harmless horror and fright-spiked fun.
The movie always means to be playful. It comes from Columbia Pictures, whose parent company is Sony, and Sarah aims to get into Columbia University while her brother’s name is Sonny. The screenwriters don’t hide their breezy take on Stine’s source material, in other words. If “Goosebumps 2” was a Universal production, Sarah would have applied to NBC Community College and her brother would have been named ComCaspian.
“Goosebumps 2” moves fast. Not so fast that its bounding back and forth between subplots doesn’t occasionally wrinkle the timeline through funky editing however. For instance, one moment shows R.L. Stine’s concerned finger pausing over his dated answering machine as he listens to a panicked voicemail from the three kids. The trio goes on to confront the bully, a few witches, anthropomorphic gummy bears, and more. Ten movie minutes later, cut to Stine racing out of his house to come to the rescue. Was he showering and getting dressed off camera during that condensed hour of activity in the meantime?
In most other circumstances, the whirling dervish tempo serves to keep constant action energetic and the kid-proofed scares spirited. The sequel’s best boon is its liveliness while its biggest knee-capper involves its proclivity to play it safe.
Average adolescent elements include familiar concerns about science fair projects and chores like folding laundry. Several sequences feature boys on bicycles, with even the bullies remembering to wear helmets of course. You’ll also see Sarah surprise her crush only to leave crestfallen when she spies him kissing another girl. The one teen trope not on the menu is a finale set at a big school dance.
Ken Jeong’s limited role could be funnier. Chris Parnell’s could too. Their comedic talents get the short shrift, but that’s on the writing, not them. Across the board, all of the performers are so personable that they become a key component of what makes “Goosebumps 2” so enjoyably pleasant.
“Pleasant” might not be an attractive adjective for hardcore hounds hankering for more bite than the rating may permit. Yet the movie maintains sincere passion for all of the chaotic content crammed onto the screen with visibly good intentions.
Whatever weight the perspective of a middle-aged man without kids may hold, “Goosebumps 2” plays the right tunes for family friendly, mildly frightful entertainment. Maybe it doesn’t take risks to further the franchise in any major manner. At worst, this sequel makes a lateral move from the first film (review here), content to be innocently appealing.
Review Score: 75