2015’s Goosebumps film is about R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books coming to life and taking over a small town in Delaware.
The sequel, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween takes that same unique and meta plot, but shows us that it never had to be catalyzed by anything that original and well thought-out. While the last film incorporates the stories from the books better and pays homage to them, this one has a less clever way of getting to a similar storyline.
High school senior Sarah Quinn (Madison Iseman) and her younger brother Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) live with their single mother (Wendi McLendon-Covey) in a small town in New York. Sonny and his best friend Sam (Caleel Harris) are in the beginning stages of their junk cleanup business, where they plan to get paid to come and pick up other people’s unwanted goods from their homes. One day after school, they get a mysterious call from an old lady to clean up an abandoned house. When they arrive, no one is there, but they discover a locked manuscript and a ventriloquist dummy named Slappy. They unknowingly bring the dummy, voiced by Jack Black, to life by reciting magic words found on a piece of paper inside the dummy’s pocket. Eventually, Slappy forces his way into the Quinn’s life because he desires to be part of a family. This is great at first because Slappy’s magical powers help Sonny and Sam defeat a school bully, but as time goes on Slappy’s assistance becomes more destructive than helpful, and he doesn’t know when to stop. The Quinn family tries to get rid of him, which makes Slappy seek revenge on them by making their lives a living hell.
While the sequel sort of rehashes the premise of the first movie, it’s also more about Slappy the Dummy–the antagonist from the Night of the Living Dummy books.
Fans of the book series may have an issue with Slappy’s new motives and powers for this film, but I actually like this version of Slappy better. It’s more realized and actually makes more sense. He actually has a reason for doing his damage.
Most of the characters’ motives are muddled and their thought processes are questionable. And the script is very inconsistent and has some issues with establishing its timeline. A lot of details are well thought-out, while other just aren’t. Sonny and Sam never find out who the lady was who called them on the phone. We think we’re going to get a nice reveal, when we never end up knowing. An odd thing to leave out.
But this film does a lot of things better than the original movie too. For one, the jokes land more successfully, giving us some real laugh-out-loud moments. And the humor never really comes at inappropriate or unrealistic moments.
Even though the child actors aren’t nearly as good, the adult actors all give solid performances. McLendon-Covey is perfect for the role, and we get some brilliant moments Chris Parnell and Ken Jeong also. They’re the ones who actually connect us adult viewers to the film. The kids are relatable by nature, but the adults in these types of movies are seldom as realistic as this.
For the most part, this movie doesn’t pander to its young audience. Though in one scene, it does that thing where it tries to be deep because it thinks it has to be–but it’s more jarring than anything else. We weren’t thinking of depth up until that point, so you might as well keep the emotion implied and submerged.
This film is better than the majority of the ’90s Goosebumps TV show episodes that fanboys are drawing negative comparisons to, and which help fuel those fanboys’ passion in the first place. Apart from a few episodes, the show is usually not very good at all, yet many fans who love the show are inexplicably having issues with this movie.
Goosebumps 2 is more of an adventure and really captures the essence of childhood better than its predecessor, and evokes those feelings of the Halloween season really well. The previous film tries to appeal to both adults and kids at the same time, whereas this one’s intent to appeal to both adults and kids at different moments makes it more along the lines of the Halloween movies we grew up with in the ’90s. If you focus too much on calling out the mistakes, then you’ll be annoyed while watching this film, and you’ll also miss out on all the fun.
I’d have to say that both Goosebumps films are great in their own ways. If you want a more detailed story and a clever premise, then go with the first movie. But if you want a solid Halloween story that’s simple and fun (and funny), Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is a very good option.