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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is a sometimes scary but frequently funny adventure for tweens and up based on R.L. Stine's same-named book series. Definitely more creepy than terrifying (and a little milder than the first movie), the bulk of the movie's frights stem from the idea of the Halloween decorations in stores and lawns coming to life. That means ghosts, witches, monsters, and a house-size spider made of balloons go into motion and terrorize a neighborhood. If that sounds kind of funny, it is; the humor and ridiculousness minimize the fright factor. That said, the villain -- a menacing, weathered ventriloquist dummy that just won't die -- is genuinely creepy in a way that could linger with younger kids. But most of the rest of the content is very mild: There's no substance use, language tops out at "jerk" and "shut up," and nothing beyond kissing and flirting is shown. Really, a bully getting pantsed and a jack-o'-lantern spitting seeds like a machine gun is as iffy as it gets. Plus, the movie has a diverse cast and a clear teamwork theme, and it taps into relatable situations for kids: squabbling with siblings, treasure hunting with friends, struggling over school assignments, interacting with friendly but quirky neighbors, and dealing with bullies. It may be a hand-clencher in the theater, but it's the kind that lets kids rest easy as soon as the credits roll.
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What's the story?
Based on R.L. Stine's popular children's horror book series, GOOSEBUMPS 2: HAUNTED HALLOWEEN begins with best friends Sam (Caleel Harris) and Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) discovering a mysterious book and ventriloquist dummy in an abandoned house. When the puppet comes to life, it doesn't take long to realize that "Slappy" has bad intentions; he soon unleashes Halloween decorations as weapons of destruction, creating a monster mash that overtakes the town. It's up to Sam, Sonny, and Sonny's older sister, Sarah (Madison Iseman), to put a stop to Slappy and his monsters before it's too late. Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ken Jeong, and Chris Parnell co-star, and Jack Black appears.
Is it any good?
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is that rare beast: a fun, scary movie for kids that won't actually terrify them. Which is perfect, because every October, many parents and children are eager to get into the Halloween spirit with some kind of ghoulish experience, but no one wants nightmares. Goosebumps 2 strikes exactly the right balance for the elementary set with its story, tone, and shivers. The plot is set in motion by the world's creepiest ventriloquist dummy, Slappy, who comes to life through an incantation and initially wins over his human friends by helping them with his powers -- all things that will never happen in real life. Slappy just wants to be part of a human family, and when he's denied that, he tries to create one of his own by bringing the town's Halloween costumes and decorations to life. Director Ari Sandel cleverly plays on the uneasy feeling that some kids experience when looking at Halloween decor while simultaneously giving that discomfort real-life resolution -- because the creatures are just as ridiculous as they are spooky. For example, gummy bears combine and grow to an enormous size, then attack by blobbing themselves onto our heroes.
Casting fresh faces in the young roles also helps kids put themselves in the heroes' shoes, while the supporting adult cast consists of comedic actors who know how to bring a smile to every line (Jeong and Black never disappoint). We all feel more empowered when we "survive" a spine-chilling movie; when kids emerge from the theater with a smirk of pride on their face saying the words, "I wasn't scared!" you realize that Goosebumps 2's best trick is the real treat.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the creepy parts of Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. Did anything scare you? If so, what? Could that happen in real life? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
How do Sarah, Sonny, and Sam demonstrate teamwork? What was their relationship before they ran into trouble? How does Sarah and Sonny's relationship compare to that between you and your siblings/other family members?
Sarah says that being scared is sometimes a good thing because it helps you appreciate what's special about your life. What does she mean? Do you agree?
Sarah faces what author R.L. Stine describes as "one of the greatest fears": a blank piece of paper. What does he advise is the best way to tackle a creative writing assignment? How can you use that recommendation?
- In theaters: October 12, 2018
- Cast: Caleel Harris, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Madison Iseman, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jack Black
- Director: Ari Sandel
- Studios: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Book Characters, Brothers and Sisters, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires, Puppets
- Character Strengths: Teamwork
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: scary creature action and images, some thematic elements, rude humor and language
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