R.L. Stine is an author best known for the “Goosebumps” series of children’s horror novels originally published in the 1990s and popular for their scares, plot twists, and flashes of humor. Stine’s books have outsold Stephen King’s, at least if you go by the number of books and not by their collective mass.
The movie opens with the young protagonist (Dylan Minnette) and his mom arriving in their new home. She has just been hired the assistant principal of a a high school, and he will be a student there. Being both the new kid and the son of the assistant principal doesn’t exactly make Minnette instantly popular, but he’s soon befriended by an awkwardly earnest nerd (Ryan Lee) who’s a bit of an outcast himself, though he’s basically a nice guy.
He also meets the appealing and self-confident girl next door (Odeya Rush), who looks a bit like a young Mila Kunis and is being home-schooled by her hyperprotective father, Jack Black. Black doesn’t want his daughter talking to any boys, or to anybody at all for that matter. But she sneaks out at night to go exploring and invites Minnette to come along so she can show him her discoveries, including an abandoned amusement park.
We soon learn that Black is actually R.L. Stine, and he has good reason to be secretive and protective: His horror creations have been coming to life and plotting to destroy him and anyone close to him. Actually they would like to destroy pretty much everybody else, too, but Stine and associates are at the top of their list, since he wants to stop them. (You could say they’re not on the same page.)
Meanwhile the high school’s obnoxious principal has the hots for the hero’s mom, the hero’s nerd friend has the hots for any girl who might conceivably be interested in him, the hero’s mom’s sister has the hots for any available man, and the town’s tiny police force includes an enthusiastic trainee cop who has the hots for arresting somebody, anybody, or at least tasing them.
It’s an unexpectedly entertaining movie, with a plot that moves right along with some interesting surprised. The monsters aren’t particularly scary, but given the intended family audience, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The real R.L. Stine has a very brief cameo in which he greets Jack Black as “Mr Stine” and Stine calls him “Mr Black.”
If you’re looking for a film to watch with a grandkid, niece, nephew, or whatever, this wouldn’t be a bad choice. You might well even enjoy it on your own. I did.