Family Movie Review: Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (PG)

'Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween' will amuse young kids, but overall it isn't as lively or exciting as its predecessor, and less screentime for Jack Black is a bummer.

Kernel Rating: 3 (3 out of 5)

MPAA Rating: PG         Length: 90 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 10+. Similar to its 2015 predecessor, this film is roughly based on R. L. Stine's original children's novels, with a specific Halloween focus. Once again, some things could be scary for very young kids, including an evil ventriloquist's dummy, pumpkins that spit out their seeds as weapons, mummies, ogres, gummy bears that come to life, and a gigantic spider formed out of creepy balloons. A lof of these images are tempered with humor, but there are some initial jump scares. Some bullying, and the bully is then embarrassed by having his pants pulled down in public; kids insult each other and tell each other to shut up; and some characters flirt and kiss.

By Roxana Hadadi

The adaptation of R. L. Stine's young adult series "Goosebumps" that was released in 2015 was so refreshingly energetic, so genuinely scary, and so perfect in its casting of Jack Black that it was truly a surprise. It took so long for Stine's novels to make it to the big screen, and it was a reassuring delight for fans of the original series that the movie version worked so well. Unfortunately, the sequel "Haunted Halloween" can't live up to that initial success. It will still spook some younger viewers with its creepy dummy villain and menagerie of Halloween monsters that come to life, but it lacks the original's zeal.

Goosebumps2HauntedHalloween ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReview 1The focus this time is on middle school best friends Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris), who live in Wardenclyffe, New York, and are resigned to being outcasts at school, bullied and isolated. To pass the time, they decide to create a garbage cleanup business, which leads them to an exciting discovery: an unpublished manuscript from horror author R. L. Stine. Sure, the manuscript is locked, but why not open it! What's the worst that could happen?

Well, of course something bad happens, and that is the unleashing of Slappy the Dummy, a ventriloquist dummy who is looking to form his own family. Because Stine's text was never published, Slappy has an unlimited array of magical and supernatural powers (a working of the interior logic of this film series that was introduced in the preceding film), and so at first he tries to befriend the boys -- doing their homework, offering to help embarrass the bully who keeps bothering Sonny and Sam.

But his intentions are clearly revealed to be nefarious when he starts using his powers to bring Halloween costumes and decorations to life, essentially unleashing an army of monsters upon the town. Can Sonny, Sam, and Sonny's older sister Sarah (Madison Iseman), stop him? And will Stine -- now living in a cabin in the woods after the Delaware-focused chaos of the first film -- answer their desperate appeal for help?

"Haunted Halloween" does well by making its characters' struggles very realistic -- Sarah is working on her college application to Columbia University; Sonny and Sam want to do well in the school science fair and to stop being bullied -- and the focus on the teamwork needed to defeat Slappy is always a welcome one for family films. "We are living a 'Goosebumps' story right now?" one of the kids excitedly asks, and the movie exhibits the same kind of self-awareness of its predecessor, with characters realizing that they're grappling with absurd situations that can only be solved by cooperation and collaboration.

It's disappointing, though, that the movie doesn't feel as unique as the first, and perhaps that's because of Black's limited screen time (maybe because of his obligations to the other spooky children's movie out right now, "The House with a Clock in Its Walls"); his zany humor would have added a lot here. The film moves at a rapid pace and doesn't overstay its welcome at only 90 minutes, but at the same time, how it sets things up for another sequel feels a little bit like what we just watched didn't really matter. Nevertheless, "Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween" is a good choice for younger kids, funny and creepy without being outright scary, and if it encourages children to start reading Stine's books, that's an added benefit.

 Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater. 

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