The imagination of horror writer R.L. Stine returns to the big screen in Columbia Pictures Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween from director Ari Sandel. To my surprise, the sequel to 2015’s Goosebumps does not pick up where the original ended, instead, screenwriter Rob Lieber gives us more of a companion piece. Sarah (Madison Iseman) is attempting to get into Columbia University, while her younger brother Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and his best friend Sam (Caleel Harris) are enjoying life as preteens.
Sam and Sonny have a business, “Junk Brothers” where they go houses and clean out junk. One day while cleaning out a house, they find a chest, which contains Slappy the Dummy. When Sonny makes the mistakes of bringing Slappy to life, the friends get more than they bargained for. Initially Slappy appears to be fun, but little do they know, Slappy has own plans for the friends and their hometown.
The character of Slappy is one of the “Goosebumps” books most popular villains, so I was happy to see Slappy make an appearance in the original film’s sequel. Jack Black provides the voice of Slappy, and while listening to Black’s voiceover work, it is clear that Black is having a ball playing a bad guy. Rob Lieber’s script avoids making Slappy a Meta villain, instead, he brings out Slappy’s Napoleon complex and it works.
I found the chemistry between Jeremy Ray Taylor and Caleel Harris to be natural, as their friendship flows across the screen with ease. Madison Iseman was also a delight as Sarah, the brave older sister and I would not mind seeing her as a final girl in a slasher flick. The film primarily rests on the shoulders of these three and the young actors succeed. The adults in the cast Wendi McLendon-Covey as Sonny and Sarah mom and Ken Jeong as a neighbor really are not given much to do but have their moments. The same goes for Jack Black who also reprises his role as Stine in addition to voicing Slappy. In hindsight, Black’s role is nothing more than an expansive cameo and his character wasn’t needed.
While Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is a children’s flick, it does have some issues. Rob Lieber’s script never explains how Slappy made his way into the chest and was it not for a late reveal, I initially thought the film was a prequel. I also found a bit of the CGI to be a bit distracting and I would have rather seen practical special effects.
The film also suffers from a direct to the home market vibe. Granted, the first film was a box office hit, but I was hoping the sequel would go a bit deeper into R.L. Stine’s catalog. While I did enjoy seeing Slappy return, I would have loved a sequel that was an adaption of my favorite “Goosebumps” book “One Day at HorrorLand”.
Despite these few small issues, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloweenkept a smile on my face for its short runtime. The sequel has funny moments and the film young cast share great chemistry. While Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween will not win any awards, but it is the perfect cinematic treat for families.
Final Grade B-