First time director Gil Kenan taps into the fear that most kids experience when walking past a dark, foreboding house - add a very cantankerous man living in it and we have the basis for this clever animated film.
The hero of the story is young D.J. Walters, voiced by Mitchel Musso, who lives across the street from a house so spooky looking, he spies on it from his 2nd floor bedroom window. He makes notes of eerie goings on as anything that falls onto its lawn, is mysteriously sucked into its mouth like door, never to be seen again.
The cantankerous, fist waving occupant is Mr. Nebbercracker, voiced by Steve Buscemi, who's used to playing odd and scary characters and gives reality to this animated old man.
The house is the main character and everyone around it responds to each of its moves. It has a wonderfully creepy personality. Its exterior expands and contracts like a living, breathing entity, and its upstairs windows are shaped like eyes that remind us of a giant carved pumpkin. But, it's the doorway that has an unfurling rug that pops out onto the sidewalk like an enormous tongue to lap up anything that comes close to the yard that is something to worry about.
D.J. and two of his friends end up taking on the monster house in a knock down, drag out fight that might prove too frightening for younger children. The young characters in the film often find themselves in some pretty precarious situations, and most of them are quite scary.
There's a lot to like about this motion-capture animated thriller. The kids are spunky and smart, and especially D.J.'s baby-sitter a sassy teen, voiced by Maggie Gyllenhaal is a standout. The story is imaginative and truly suspenseful.