Best animated film of the year, with gorgeous visuals, impeccable voice casting, and an entertaining story.
Every neighborhood has a creepy old house, inhabited by a grumpy old man who yells "get off my lawn" and refuses to give back the balls and toys that land in his yard. DJ (voiced by Mitchel Musso) lives across the street from that house, and old man Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi) is as nasty and ill-tempered as they come. But when Nebbercracker is rushed off to the hospital, DJ and his friends -- best pal Chowder (Sam Lerner) and neighborhood newcomer Jenny (Spencer Locke) -- discover that it isn't just Nebbercracker they need to worry about it; the house has a mind of its own, and it wants to eat them. The kids set out to destroy the house, and we're off for a marvelous thrill ride that will make a great first horror film for older kids, though it is definitely too scary for smaller kids; I'd say nine or ten would be the cutoff.
The movie's made using the same motion-capture technology that we saw in The Polar Express; wisely, Kenan has chosen not to go for the same level of photo-realism in his characters that Robert Zemeckis attempted in Express (Zemeckis is one of the executive producers of Monster House); he's stepped the characters back a notch or two towards cartoon, and as a result, they don't have the waxy creepiness that made Express so unpleasant to watch.
With the exception of the three kids, the cast is made up of fairly recognizable names, but the star casting never gets in the way as it can in some animated films (think of Robin Williams in Robots, for instance, whose every appearance is just more Robin Williams shtick). In addition to Buscemi, the cast includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, Kevin James, Nick Cannon, Jon Heder (who, for the first time in his inexplicable career, is actually funny), and, in a small role, a perfectly cast Kathleen Turner. And those three kids are just as good as their better known adult co-stars, aided by a top-notch screenplay (by Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, and Pamela Pettler) that precisely captures the voice and attitudes of kids who are right on the edge of puberty.
Monster House isn't at the level of the best Pixar films, but it's better than the lesser Pixar films -- certainly better than Cars or A Bug's Life -- and it's the best non-Pixar animation we've seen in years.