I havent read a huge amount of R.L. Stine but have lived in a household when pre-teens seemed to go through them with the ease and disposability of Kleenex. They were entirely lightweight stories, serving up familiar horror figures with a light comedic twist and written for easy consumption. (The fact that Jack Blacks Stine here is shown dashing off an entire book in what would have to be less than an hour perhaps gives an unwitting insight into Stines writing process). In terms of horror, the Goosebumps stories are safe and easy the equivalent of decaffeinated coffee or US free-to-air television where black strips pop up to prevent us from seeing nudity and the word hell is dubbed as heck lest we get morally offended. It seems fitting that when adapting Stines works here that the filmmakers turn not to a director with a history in horror or creature films but someone whose background was family-friendly animation and big easy comedies Rob Letterman who started out in the animation department for DreamWorks and became co-director and co-writer of Shark Tale (2004) and Monsters vs Aliens (2009). Letterman previously made his live-action debut with the Jack Black vehicle Gullivers Travels (2010).
Given that Goosebumps is a generic term for a series of books that are singletons and not connected, the film is stuck with how to spin this off as a dramatic entity. The notion they come up with is that of R.L. Stine appearing as an actual character (the real Stine also turns up in a background shot near the end and is introduced by Jack Black as Thats Mr Black, the new drama teacher). Moreover, there is a meta-fictional plot where Stine is capable of bringing his own creations to life and they have to be imprisoned inside locked books. The whole of the film fairly much consists of the opening of these books and the unleashing of the resident menaces. Thus we get appearances from a myriad of Stine creatures the killer plants from Stay Out of the Basement (1992), The Werewolf of Fever Swamp (1993), The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena (1995), The Blob That Ate Everyone (1997), The Invisible Boy from My Best Friend is Invisible! (1997) and sequels, the vampire poodle from Please Dont Feed the Vampire! (1997), the toy killer robots from Toy Terror: Batteries Included (1997), the aliens from Invasion of the Body Squeezers (1998), The Haunted Car (1999), and everything spearheaded by Slappy from Night of the Living Dummy (1993) who has become the Goosebumps series most popular character and has appeared in nine sequels.
Goosebumps passes the time amiably enough, it is fun waiting to see what creature the film is going to produce next. There is the requisite degree of heroism, humour and Jack Black doing the Jack Black thing. There are some creature effects of variable quality although I kept thinking that both the werewolf and blob only look like CGI effects. It also feels like the horror equivalent of walking through a house that has been safety-proofed for children where nothing is allowed to be too scary, where no blood is spilt or nobody actually dies, where chaos is unleashed around the town and then all magically put back in the box with nothing affected. Even the tragic character sacrifice of the one of the leads is restored with literally a magic flick of the writing pen in the end coda. Goosebumps passes the time but in reality this is something that you can only take about as seriously as an episode of Scooby Doo, Where Are You? (1969-72).
The screen story is from Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski who have spent quite a bit of time writing about other real-life characters, albeit in the biopic sense with Ed Wood (1994), The People Vs. Larry Flynt (1996), Man on the Moon (1999) and Big Eyes (2014), as well as other works like the childrens spy film Agent Cody Banks (2003) and the Stephen King adaptation 1408 (2007). The actual script is from Darren Lemke, director of the modest thriller Lost (2004) and scripter of family fare such as Shrek Forever After (2010), Jack the Giant Slayer (2013) and Turbo (2013).