“The House with a Clock In Its Walls” is the perfect kids’ movie to kick off the Halloween season. It’s a nice blend of serious, silly and spooky, if you want to give your little ones a delightful fright with a solid story.
Based on the first in a series of novels by writers John Bellairs and Brad Strickland, “The House with a Clock In Its Walls” is an easy movie about magic and a heroic child triumphing over the bad guys. It does not demand too much from the viewer, and has the right amount of special effects to play with the imagination. Though the film does cut some corners here and there and goes for a few easy laughs now and again. it absolutely loves its running poop gag.
After his parents die in an auto accident, 10-year-old Lewis Barnavelt is sent to live with his eccentric uncle in Michigan. He quickly learns that his uncle is a magical warlock, and Lewis begins his own training — like a home-schooled Harry Potter. And sure enough, the good wizards are all that stand in the way of an evil sorcerer and his sinister plan to destroy the world.
“House” clearly has a lot of fun with its magic and fully aims at entertaining the children in the audience. It does not get as darkly serious as some of the Harry Potter films, but it does not shy away from being creepy and spooky. Anyone afraid of demonic puppets or evil, cackling villains should watch out.
There is a nice balance between the magical shenanigans and Lewis’ social life. A natural outcast, Lewis has trouble fitting in at his new school, and it definitely doesn’t help when he tries to impress the popular kids with magic. This storyline is a nice subplot to balance out the magic, giving Lewis’ character more depth.
The child actors are OK, but none of them are particularly impressive. Lewis is played by Owen Vaccaro, who has had a couple roles, but is a little too subdued in “House”. The adult actors more than carry the rest of the film, with Jack Black his usual jovial self as eccentric Uncle Jonathan. Cate Blanchett helps out as his best witch friend, Mrs. Zimmerman, and Kyle MacLachlan is solid as the bad guy.
Vaccaro, Black and Blanchett make for a fun trio, and it’s enjoyable watching them use magic to save the day.
Ultimately though, the way the film fails to properly explain some of its characters, and the way it cuts a few corners to get through the story, makes it feel like it might be better just to read the book.