Friday, October 16, 2020

Don't Tell Mom the Boogeyman's Back:

Older kids know that becoming a babysitter is a portal to power, an important first step into a larger world. So of course it only makes sense that there could be a secret order of babysitters sworn to secrecy and pledged to protect their innocent charges from the Boogeyman. That’s the charm of A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting, which is imbued with the tween energy of getting some measure of control over your life, while still bound by the duties of being a kid. It stars Artemis Fowl’s Tamara Smart as a plucky math whiz teen who’d rather be at the cool kids’ Halloween party instead of watching her mother’s boss’s son (Ian Ho). Still, it pays well. And mother said she must. So off she goes, gathering the necessary sheets of instructions from the cold, persnickety mother (Tamsen McDonough) — swanning about dressed as an Ice Queen, the irony not lost on our hero — and seeing the kid safely off to bed, despite his hesitations and stories of vivid nightmares. Shame, then, that the Boogeyman (Tom Felton, looking like a glam Tim Burton castoff, or like something out of the classic DCOM Don’t Look Under the Bed) arrives and carries the tot off to a dream-harvesting underworld. This is where our hapless babysitter is introduced to the noble secret monster-hunter cause, by way of a super cool older girl (Oona Laurence). She swoops in a motorized scooter wearing a leather jacket and slick cotton candy hair perfectly coifed. She knows all the tricks, and so the two girls zip around tracking the gently designed beasties that lead the way to the villain’s lair, with stops at a basement laboratory, the aforementioned Halloween party, and the Art Deco home of a silent-film star turned witch (Indya Moore). Scripted by Joe Ballarini from his own children’s book of the same name, the whole thing is fast-paced and cute. It is carried along with gentle buoyancy, adventurous without being overwhelming, and possessed of only the mildest of creep factors. It’s a kids picture and knows it. Director Rachel Talalay (Tank Girl) brings the lively Goosebumps by way of Spy Kids style, with sharp blocking, sparkling fantastical sets, and zippy action. She also coaxes the sweetest, appealing performances out of her young cast, steering hard into their likability, and the bouncy young person’s adventure of it all. It’s an all around charmer.

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