While exploring a spooky, derelict house, Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor - ‘It’) and his friend, Sam (Caleel Harris - ‘Castle Rock’) come across an old book and a ventriloquist's dummy that they decide to take home. Slappy the Dummy (Mick Wingert) soon comes to life and starts making trouble, forcing the boys and Sonny’s sister, Sarah (Madison Iseman - ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’), to try and figure out a way to get rid of him.
‘Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween’ has opted for a different cast, more family-friendly tone and much less Jack Black (he has little more than a cameo here and no longer voices Slappy) than the first ‘Goosebumps’. This makes for a tauter movie that wholeheartedly embraces its silliness and plays around with conventions in a way that will amuse kids and the adults who accompany them.
Compared to the original, the sequel zips along much speedier (coming in at under 90 minutes in running length), and has more laugh-out-loud moments. Ken Jeong, renowned for ‘The Hangover’ and fresh off the success of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, makes a fun addition but Wendi McLendon-Covey as single mom Kathy gets the most laughs. McLendon-Covey has been keeping busy since her biggest hit, ‘Bridesmaids’, but hasn’t been getting the meaty roles that her colleagues from the film have. Performances like these prove that’s a crying shame.
Director Ari Sandel is best-known in the industry for his short ‘West Bank Story’, which won the 2006 Best Live Action Short Oscar. ‘Goosebumps 2’ marks his third feature, his first being ‘The Duff’, which earned generally positive reviews, and Adam Devine starrer ‘When We First Met’, which has gotten kind of lost in the library of Netflix Original Films since its release early this year. ‘Goosebumps 2’ demonstrates the director’s ability to exude fun and humour from simple concept plots, which gives one hope for his next project ‘Monster High,’ based on the American doll franchise and its subsequent animated web series. And before you go giving out that Hollywood is out of ideas, remember that ‘Goosebumps 2’ is based on a books series from the 90s (as well as being a rehashed version of the first ‘Goosebumps’ movie) – so yeah, obviously they’re out of ideas.
With its concept of ‘Halloween brought to life’, one shouldn’t really expect wit or subtlety, and neither will be found here. The CGI effects leave much wanting, often feeling akin to an episode of the ‘Goosebumps’ TV series or ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ Mind you, given the source material, that might just be the point, and it also means the film doesn’t get too scary for little ones. Let go of all expectations or preconceptions and you’ll find yourself enjoying the movie more than you thought you would.