Hollywood Product - Monster House

Cartoon ghost story

Genre: Cartoon ghost story

The pitch: The night before Halloween, sleuthing middle-schoolers DJ (Mitchel Musso), Chowder (Sam Lerner) and Jenny (Spencer Locke) suspect that the spooky house across the street possesses supernatural powers and a ravenous appetite for trick-or-treaters.

Money shots: With eyelike windows, a door frame that snaps like jaws, and a whiplike red carpet for a tongue, the scene-stealing house gives new meaning to the term "scenery chewing." At the climax, it even turns into a mobile home by raising off its foundation to lumber after the heroes.

Body Count: The film features an unnervingly realistic heart attack early on. In flashback, a shrewish woman suffers a fatal accident. The house engulfs three doomed dimwits and a disrespectful dog — but all is not what it seems.

Voice cameos: The film features brief vocal work from Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara as the inevitably clueless parents, and more showy performances from Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder as a pimply expert in supernatural hokum, and Steve Buscemi as the house's cranky owner with "Get off my lawn!" as his mantra.

Best line: Sending a jerry-rigged decoy toward the house to test its powers, Chowder tearfully declares, "I love you, vacuum-cleaner dummy. Don't be scared — that's not how we trained you!"

Fashion statement: DJ's bad-tempered baby-sitter, Zee (who looks like her vocal performer, Maggie Gyllenhaal), sports standard-issue black T-shirts and other goth-punk gear. Jenny's private-school uniform establishes her as the Hermione of the trio. Chowder wears a little red cape the size of a dish towel — you know, like all the kids do these days.

Cult lineage: Screenwriters Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab wrote the cult TV-series pilot "Heat Vision and Jack," in which Jack Black and a talking motorcycle solved mysteries. You can YouTube it.

Techno-geek factor: Monster House uses the same motion-capture software from The Polar Express that replicates the voices, movements and facial expressions of live actors.

The bottom line: Though way too loud and intense for small kids, Monster House at least proves less nightmarish than The Polar Express' attempts at holiday cheer. It also feels like a deliberate throwback to the 1980s' shrill, silly suburban adventures like The Goonies, so take that either as an endorsement or a warning. 2 stars.